Congolese rebels killed 15 civilians and abducted a dozen children in an attack at the center of the latest deadly Ebola outbreak, Congo's military said Sunday. The violence has threatened to again force the suspension of crucial virus contamination efforts.
The Allied Democratic Forces rebels, a Ugandan Islamist militant group active in the area since the 1990s, attacked Congolese army positions and several neighborhoods of Beni on Saturday and into Sunday, Capt. Mak Hazukay Mongha told The Associated Press.
Last month, Ebola prevention activities were suspended for days in Beni after a deadly rebel attack, further complicating ways to find and track individuals infected by Ebola. Since then, many of the new Ebola cases have alarmed aid groups. The number of new confirmed cases has more than doubled.
The latest attack comes after two medical workers were killed by a militia in Eastern Congo Saturday while manning a port of entry to try to control the spread of Ebola. It's believed to be the first time health workers have been killed by rebels in this Ebola outbreak.
Congo's health minister called it a "dark day" late Saturday for everyone fighting the deadly Ebola outbreak.
The daytime attack appeared to be the first time health workers have been killed by rebels in this outbreak, which is taking place in what has been compared to a war zone. Controlling the Ebola outbreak in Eastern Congo has been hard because it is in the middle of a conflict zone with many armed groups.
The health ministry says a local militia called Mai Mai surged from the forest and opened fire on the unarmed members of Congo's Rapid Intervention Medical Unit.
"Health agents are not a target for armed groups," Health Minister Oly Ilunga told the AP. "Our agents will continue to go into the field each day to fulfill the mission entrusted to them. They are true heroes and we will continue to take all necessary measures so that they can do their job safely."
NPR's Eyder Peralta reports from Nairobi that health workers have had a tough time vaccinating against the disease, because of persistent rumors that they are spreading Ebola and harvesting organs.
Last week, 22 young bikers in Butembo exhumed the body of a friend to find out if it was intact. After negotiation, they agreed to rebury the body and be vaccinated against Ebola, because they handled an infected corpse. They joined the more than 20-thousand people who have received vaccinations so far.
Earlier this week, the Word Health Organization said it was "deeply concerned" by the outbreak but that it does not yet warrant being declared a global emergency.
As of Oct, 19, confirmed Ebola cases have now reached 200, including 117 deaths, according to WHO.