The death toll from an army crackdown on anti-United Nations demonstrations in east Congo on Wednesday is at least 40 people, roughly six times higher then the seven casualties initially reported, two military sources said on Thursday.
Congo’s army violently dispersed a protest in the city of Goma against the U.N. peacekeeping mission and other foreign organisations after footage of an attack on a policeman circulated on social media. Reuters was unable to verify the footage.
Authorities said the policeman was stoned to death, and that six protesters were killed when the army intervened.
But two military officers who spoke on condition of anonymity said hospitals had been receiving dozens of lorries since the protest, and placed the death toll above 40.
A U.N. source said they were investigating “credible” allegations of over fifty deaths after soldiers blocked the protesters, who had gathered in a church before the demonstration started.
Provincial army spokesperson Guillaume Ndjike denied the reports and said the death toll remained seven.
Unverified footage has been posted on social media showing soldiers piling bodies into a lorry and driving them through Goma in a convoy.
The head of the local branch of the International Red Cross in Goma, Anne-Sylvie Linder, said her clinic had received a high number of people with serious stab and gunshot wounds after the protest.
“Some were dead when they arrived,” she said, without specifying the exact figure.
The military governor for the North Kivu province, Constant Ndima, said an investigation had been opened.
The U.N.’s peacekeeping mission in eastern Congo, known as MONUSCO, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The mission has faced protests since 2022 spurred partly by complaints that it has failed to protect civilians against decades of militia violence.
An anti-MONUSCO protest in July 2022 resulted in more than 15 deaths, including three peacekeepers in Goma and the city of Butembo.