DR Congo blast kills schoolgirl, injures peacekeepers


A seven-year-old schoolgirl was killed and 32 Indian UN peacekeepers were injured early Tuesday in an explosion in Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the world body said.

“It was an explosive device,” Charles-Antoine Bambara, spokesman for the MONUSCO peacekeeping force told a foreign media agency, adding that an investigation was underway.

The blast occurred just before 6:30 am as the peacekeepers were exercising in the Kyshero district of Goma. Bambara said two civilians were also among the toll of wounded.

A source close to MONUSCO who asked not to be named said the attack “deliberately targetted the peacekeepers at a time when they were unarmed.” The source added that the “home-made” device had been hidden in a can and had been detonated remotely. The peacekeepers were taken to a UN military hospital.

The UN force has more than 20,000 troops in the country — where it first deployed in 1999 — protecting civilians and disarming dozens of rebel and splinter groups after two decades of conflict in the east of the country. Several hours after Tuesday’s blast, blood could be seen drying on the dirt road, journalists said. A group of children showed journalists about 10 twisted bolts as well as small metal balls. Witnesses said the metal fragments were spread out over 10 metres (yards) area from the explosion and that MONUSCO and police officers collected most of them.

Santas Acenti Foruguta, a watchman at a nearby building site where a Catholic cathedral is under construction, said he fled as soon as he heard the explosion. When he returned a short time later, he said he saw Indian peacekeepers “putting injured people in sports gear into their vehicles” before going off, leaving behind the young girl who had been cut down by the explosion while on her way to school.

MONUSCO’s mandate has been beefed up over the years. In 2013 its troops worked alongside Congolese army soldiers to dismantle the M23 rebel movement. DRC’s political crisis deepened last month after a presidential election, which had been due before the year’s end, was postponed until April 2018.

The opposition has accused President Joseph Kabila, who has been in office since 2001, of manipulating the electoral system to stay in power after his second term ends on December 20.

A 2006 constitutional provision limits the presidency to two terms. The decision to delay the vote was taken in October by the government and fringe opposition groups following a “national dialogue” — boycotted as a sham by much of the opposition — to calm tensions.