40 drown fleeing violence in northwestern DR Congo

Forty civilians drowned when their boats capsized on a storm-swollen river as they fled fighting in the northwest of the Democratic Republic of Congo. (AFP pic)

GEMENA: Forty civilians drowned when their boats capsized on a storm-swollen river as they fled fighting in the northwest of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a senior local official said on Friday.

“As of Wednesday night, we recovered the bodies of 40 people” after their boats capsized, Jean Bakatoye, vice governor of Sud-Ubangi province, said.

“The toll is still provisional as other bodies were swept downstream,” he said.

The civilians were trying to cross the Ubangi River, which marks part of the border with the neighbouring Republic of Congo.

They were trying to escape fighting involving DR Congo troops and “outlaws,” Bakatoye said.

The events took place in the remote border town of Dongo, after an army position came under attack on Sunday, he said.

“Several soldiers” were injured, he said, although four witnesses said they had seen the bodies of two troops and four assailants.

On Monday, army reinforcements arrived, prompting villagers to panic, fearing a wider conflict, Bakatoye said.

Dongo was shaken by a revolt by people of Enyele descent in 2009, which was put down by the Congolese army the following year.

Fighting left an estimated 270 dead and displaced 200,000 people.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country, DR Congo is struggling with local conflicts, and in remote areas the control of the central government in Kinshasa is weak.