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Suspected rebels kill 18 in Congo’s east amid Ebola

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — A Congolese civil society group says that 18 people have been killed in attacks by suspected Allied Democratic Forces rebels in the eastern city of Beni, an added threat to the city and region which are battling an Ebola outbreak.

The Norwegian Refugee Council said it and other aid agencies have been forced to temporarily suspend activities in Beni because of Saturday’s attack.

“This points to an increasingly worrisome security situation across the country,” the group said in a statement Monday. “NRC has also had to interrupt multiple aid activities due to intensifying and more frequent armed clashes in Djugu territory in the northern province of Ituri and Fizi territory of South Kivu over the last two weeks. These suspensions have disrupted aid to thousands of people in need of humanitarian assistance and protection.”

Stephen Lamin, area manager for the Norwegian Refugee Council, said that it was a worst-case scenario. The group is providing food, household items, education and legal counselling in the region.

Congo’s health minister, Dr. Oly Ilunga Kalenga, said that health staff had to only temporarily suspend field activities that required home visits, but otherwise “that all pillars of the response remain fully operational.”

“Despite the unfortunate events of the last few days, the Ministry of Health remains fully committed to your community,” he said.

Health centers, including the Beni Ebola Treatment Center, all remained open, among other responses, he said.

“We share your sorrow. Do not let these tragic incidents divide us,” he said. “The only way to end the Ebola Virus Disease epidemic remains the mobilization and commitment of the community alongside the health authorities.”

The U.N.-backed Radio Okapi reported Sunday that 14 civilians and four soldiers were killed in the attacks Saturday in the Rwenzori community of Beni.

The ADF rebels attacked a military position and the battle caused the deaths. Radio Okapi also reported many market stalls were looted by the suspected Uganda-based rebels.

Though agencies continued the health work to contain Ebola, such attacks hamper those efforts.

This latest outbreak in the country’s east has infected at least 118 people, including 69 people who have died, according to Congo’s Health Ministry.

Congo’s 10th outbreak was declared on Aug. 1. More than 10,000 people have since been vaccinated.

Congo’s east is home to many armed groups vying for control of the mineral-rich region.

The ADF rebels have killed more than 1,500 people in the Beni region since October 2014. The rebels formed in the 1990s, eventually relocating from neighboring Uganda to Congo.

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Carley Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal.

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