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Protesters torch Congo mayor's office, U.N. buildings after massacre

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By Reuters

By Fiston Mahamba

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – Protesters set fire to the town hall and several United Nations buildings in Beni in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday in anger at a new round of violence by suspected Islamist rebels.

Rebels believed to belong to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) killed eight people in an overnight raid, police said, stoking residents’ fury at the perceived inaction of both the government and the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the country.

The police said protesters torched the mayor’s office in response to the massacre. A tweet by the police force showed flames shooting from the window and thick black smoke billowing above.

The protesters then marched to the offices of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUSCO), said Teddy Kataliko, a civil society leader in Beni.

“Several offices at the MONUSCO headquarters were set on fire and looted,” Kataliko said. “Residents are demanding the withdrawal of MONUSCO from Beni because of the inaction of U.N. forces.”

Two people were killed by gunfire in the protests, Beni police commander Safari Kazingufu told Reuters, without providing further details.

A MONUSCO spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment. The mission said in a series of tweets on Monday that it had not been invited by Congo’s military to participate in an offensive against the ADF launched late last month.

ADF fighters have killed more than 70 civilians in massacres since those operations began, according to Kivu Security Tracker, a research group.

Congolese authorities have blamed the ADF for dozens of massacres since 2014 that have killed thousands of civilians, although independent experts say other armed groups and some Congolese soldiers have also participated in certain attacks.

The violence by the ADF and a patchwork of militias and criminal bands near Congo’s borders with Uganda and Rwanda has hampered efforts to eradicate a more than year-long Ebola outbreak, which is the second deadliest of all time.

The ADF has been operating near the Ugandan border for more than two decades. It is one of dozens of rebel groups active in the mineral-rich areas where civil wars resulted in millions of deaths around the turn of the century.

Several ADF attacks have been claimed by Islamic State, but the extent of their relationship remains unclear.

(Reporting by Fiston Mahamba, Stanis Bujakera and Anna Pujol-Mazzini, writing by Anna Pujol-Mazzini, editing by Aaron Ross, Angus MacSwan and Philippa Fletcher)