Armed groups have attacked and killed three Ebola response workers in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the World Health Organization chief said on Thursday, an alarming development that could cause the waning outbreak to again pick up momentum.
"We are heartbroken that our worst fears have been realised," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Twitter about the attacks in Biakato Mines and Mangina.
The health workers were killed when Mai-Mai fighters attacked a centre run by the United Nations health agency overnight in Biakato, local official Salambongo Selemani said.
One resident also was killed while DRC forces killed one attacker and captured two others, Selemani said.
Warnings had been posted earlier demanding that the health workers leave or face "the worst," the official said.
The latest attacks come after days of deadly unrest in the city of Beni, where residents last week outraged by repeated rebel attacks stormed the local United Nations peacekeeping base, demanding more protection. WHO evacuated 49 of its staffers there, leaving 71 in place.
The not-for-profit Congo Research Group (CRG) said on Wednesday 99 civilians have been killed by armed groups in the Beni area since November 5, following the launch of an offensive by the country's army.
This is not the first time that health workers trying to contain the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history have been targeted.
Rich in minerals
Residents accuse Congolese and UN forces of not doing enough to protect civilians from the rebels who fight for control of the region’s vast mineral wealth.
The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) armed group alone is blamed for the murders of more than 1,500 people in and around Beni in the past four years.
The latest rebel attack outside Beni killed 19 people, the UN said on Wednesday.
After an emergency meeting on Monday, President Felix Tshisekedi decided to allow joint operations between Congolese and UN forces in Beni following the protests that also burned the town hall.
Protests move to UN HQ
A protest was held outside the headquarters of the UN mission in Goma on Wednesday.
Activists from the social justice group, LUCHA (Lutte Pour Le Changement, or 'struggle for change'), gathered in Goma at the UN Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to protest against the killing of a member during protests.
Three protesters were killed by police and four others were killed by UN peacekeepers trying to disperse the crowds outside a Beni UN base earlier this week, a civil society spokesman said.
Campaigners from LUCHA, a group which fights for social justice and political reform, carried pictures of the group member, who was killed during demonstrations which took place in Beni.
The UN peacekeeping mission in the country said it was launching a probe after gathering evidence that its troops may have killed a young demonstrator following a protest in the east of the country.
"The elements that we have indicate that it was Blue Helmets who were responsible for the death of this young man," said a spokesman for the mission, MONUSCO.
The first death occurred on Tuesday in the northeastern city of Beni, where angry locals have been demonstrating against MONUSCO, accusing it of failing to protect them against a notorious militia.
In a statement, MONUSCO quoted mission chief Leila Zerrougui as saying the man "was reportedly killed in an exchange with Blue Helmets as he was about to throw a petrol bomb."