Efforts to fight an Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo’s restive eastern Beni region were suspended on Saturday after clashes just a “few metres” from a local emergency centre and the hotels of several response teams, the health ministry said.
UN peacekeepers from the MONUSCO mission repelled an offensive by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia in Beni city’s northern Boikene neighbourhood late on Friday, a ministry statement said.
The ADF, a shadowy armed group that has killed hundreds of people since 2014 and at least seven peacekeepers in clashes just this week, wanted to “attack one of MONUSCO’s bases”, the statement added.
“We escaped death thanks to MONUSCO, which is very close to us in Boikene,” a resident told the UN’s Okapi radio.
The health ministry said that “all field activities were suspended and the emergency operations centre remains closed” on Saturday, adding that Ebola health worker response teams had stayed in their hotels.
Also on Saturday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said 16 of its staff members in Beni had been temporarily evacuated after a shell hit the building they were staying in.
Michel Yao, WHO’s coordinator for Ebola response operations in Beni, told AFP that no one was injured, adding that it was not known whether the shell came from the ADF or MONUSCO forces.
Health Minister Dr Oly Ilunga Kalenga said he deplored these acts of violence and the outbreak “remains dangerous, particularly in Beni”.
Since August 1, the Ebola outbreak in Beni, home to up to 300 000 people, has killed 213 people.
The UN has said unrest is hampering efforts to contain the disease in a region that has been troubled for decades by inter-ethnic bloodshed and militia violence.
The ADF is an Islamist-rooted group that rose in western Uganda in 1995, led by Jamil Mukulu, a converted Muslim.
Forced out of Uganda, it operates in the border area in the DRC’s North Kivu province.
A ceremony was held on Saturday in Beni for six peacekeepers from Malawi and one from Tanzania who were killed in an operation against the ADF this week.
Fifteen other peacekeepers were killed in an ADF attack on a MONUSCO base in Beni in December last year.