GOMA, Congo — Two high-ranking military officers in northeast Congo were arrested Monday for taking part in a crackdown on protests last week that left 43 people dead and another 56 severely injured, authorities said.
Interior Minister Peter Kazadi said police arrested Commanders Mike Mikombe and Donat Bawili, who respectively headed the Republican Guard unit and the Congolese armed forces regiment in Goma, the eastern city where the violence unfolded.
Defense and security forces in the Central African nation used lethal force last Wednesday to repress planned anti-U.N. protests in the city. A government delegation arrived in Goma on Monday to hold hearings and other proceedings “to establish responsibility,” the interior minister said.
“We have no interest in hiding anything. The whole truth will be known,”Kazadi said. Authorities called on families of the people killed in Goma to come forward with information for the inquiry.
On Aug. 23, Goma’s mayor banned a protest organized by a sect called the Natural Judaic and Messianic Faith Towards the Nations, known colloquially as Wazalendo. Its supporters planned to demonstrate against the regional East African Community organization and the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo.
The U.N. mission, which is known by its French acronym of MONUSCO, has faced increased pressure to withdraw from Congo after more than two decades in the conflict-burdened country.
Advocacy group Human Rights Watch said Thursday that before the protests could take place, armed forces fired on Wazalendo demonstrators in the streets, kicking off an “apparent massacre” in the city. National authorities said 43 civilians died and 56 were badly hurt.
The U.N. human rights office said more than 220 people were arrested in connection with the planned protests and the subsequent crackdown.
“After expressing his anger and dismay at the tragic events in Goma, (President Felix Tshisekedi) called on the judiciary to shed light on the tragedy and establish who was responsible,” presidential spokesperson Tina Salama said on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
Voicing their outrage at the killings, young protesters in Goma barricaded roads on Monday morning. The city remained paralyzed into the afternoon, when police succeeded in dispersing the protesters without major incident and reopened roads.