Armed rebels kill UN peacekeepers in Ebola hot spot

A joint operation yesterday against armed rebels near the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Ebola hot spot in Beni killed seven United Nations peacekeepers, as officials confirmed one more infection in the outbreak.

Action targeted ADF stronghold

The action against the armed rebels, who have been responsible for several attacks against civilians in Beni that have stymied response activities, involved the UN mission known as MONUSCO and government armed forces. Their target was the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).

Forces killed in the clash included one Tanzanian and six Malawian "blue helmets," or UN soldiers, according to a UN report. Ten other peacekeepers were wounded, and another is missing. Several government soldiers and an unknown number of ADF fighters were also killed or wounded.

According to a New York Times report, the joint forces came under attack while trying to remove rebel fighters from a stronghold in Kididiwe near Beni. UN officials speaking anonymously told the Times that the mission was successful, and a number of rebels were taken.

In a statement, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the killing of the UN peacekeepers and called on armed groups to disarm and stop their destabilizing activities, which hurt the local population and complicate the Ebola outbreak response.

He also urged the DRC's government to keep taking steps to apprehend those responsible for attacks on civilians, government forces, and UN peacekeeping troops.

Beni has been the scene of several violent attacks since the Ebola outbreak began in August, including one in September that resulted in a public mourning period that temporarily halted response operations.

The joint mission push against the ADF forces in the area comes a week after a high-level visit by UN and World Health Organization (WHO) officials to address the security problems, which have been fueled by the DRC's longstanding failure to protect citizens against armed groups in the eastern part of the country.

One confirmed case, more probable illnesses

Meanwhile, the DRC's health ministry today reported one new case, which involves a patient from Katwa. Officials have been cleaning up their case database, which has resulted in the addition of seven probable cases in Kalunguta.

The new developments bring the outbreak total to 352 cases, 305 of them confirmed and 47 listed as probable. One more death was reported, which involves a person from Katwa, lifting the fatality count to 210.

Health officials are currently investigating 90 suspected Ebola cases, which is double the number the health ministry said they were investigating yesterday.

In an update on vaccination efforts, the health ministry said it has used a different strategy to immunize people in Kalunguta, a "red zone" where the security situation doesn't allow investigators to establish a contact list needed for the ring vaccination strategy used elsewhere in the outbreak region.

Instead, health officials have used a targeted geographic vaccination strategy, which consists of vaccinating several households or even a whole village or district around a confirmed case.

Overall, 31,224 people have been vaccinated, about half of them in Beni and 1,620 in the Kalunguta red zone.

See also:

Nov 15 UN report

Nov 16 DRC update

Nov 15 UN secretary-general statement

Nov 15 NY Times story

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