At least 13 people have died in two days of clashes in a city in central Democratic Republic of Congo that pitted security forces against militia fighters seeking to avenge the death of their leader, witnesses and local media said on Friday.
Fighters loyal to a traditional chief named Kamwina Nsapu, who was killed in a clash with police last month, first entered the city of Kananga on Thursday morning.
Eight militia members were killed by security forces before the group fled, according to national broadcaster Radio Okapi. Three schoolchildren were trampled to death, and one unidentified man also died.
Fighters returned again on Friday and attacked the city’s airport, killing a worker for a local airline, one witness said.
“From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. there was heavy fighting with small arms and heavy weapons,” said Killy Ilunga, who saw the body of the dead flight attendant. “They burst into the hall of the airport. One of them beat her with a club.”
Another town resident said he saw the bodies of several militia members at the airport.
“The situation is under our control. The airport has been under the control of our forces since this afternoon,” said government spokesman Lambert Mende. “We don’t have a death toll at the moment. But yes, there were deaths.”
Kamwina Nsapu vowed three months ago to rid his home province of Kasai-Central of all state security forces, accusing them of abusing the local population.
The conflict between the local authorities and his fighters, who are often armed with little more than clubs and magic amulets, has erupted into deadly violence on several occasions.