At least 47 drown fleeing clashes in northwestern Congo

An overcrowded river boat overturned on the Ubangi River which divides DRC and neighbouring Congo Republic.

A picture taken in 2011 shows the Ubangi river, the natural border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo Republic. Picture: AFP.

GOMA - At least 47 people drowned when their boat capsized as they fled clashes between soldiers in northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo and armed men who had crossed the border from neighbouring Congo Republic, a provincial governor said on Friday.

The overcrowded river boat overturned on the Ubangi River that divides the two countries on Tuesday as residents of the town of Dongo raced to flee an outbreak of fighting between the soldiers and “bandits” from a tribal militia, said the governor of South Ubangi province, Joachim Taila Nage.

Tens of thousands of Congolese fled violence that broke out in 2009 between the local Enyele and Munzaya tribes over farming and fishing rights around Dongo.

But no major incidents have been reported in recent years, and western Congo as a whole has remained mostly peaceful as violence has escalated in the east and centre of the country.

“The population, which remembers what happened before, became very scared and three-quarters of the population of Dongo fled and crossed the river,” Taila told Reuters, adding that he expected the death toll to rise as more bodies were recovered.

Taila said the latest clashes began on Monday when members of an Enyele militia crossed the Ubangi from Congo Republic and killed two police officers. Soldiers killed four militia members and captured two others the following day, he said.

Millions of people died in eastern Congo from conflict, hunger and disease during civil wars around the turn of the century and armed violence has risen in the past two years, in part due to political instability linked to President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down when his mandate expired in 2016.