KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — United Nations peacekeepers opened fire at a border crossing in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday, U.N. and Congolese authorities said, killing two people and injuring 15 others in a spasm of violence that punctuated weeks of tensions over the agency’s role in Africa’s second-largest nation.
Local protesters have recently escalated their calls for United Nations forces to leave the region, saying the soldiers have failed to protect civilians against an alarming surge of violence carried out by an array of militant groups. The killings on Sunday come just days after at least 19 people, including three U.N. peacekeepers, were killed and 60 others injured, in demonstrations against the peacekeeping mission in the cities of Butembo and Goma.
On Sunday, a U.N. peacekeeping brigade returning from leave opened fire at the border post in Kasindi town, in the North Kivu Province along the border with Uganda, Bintou Keita, the head of the U.N. mission in Congo, said in a statement. Ms. Keita said the force opened fire for “unexplained reasons and forced their way through” the border crossing causing “loss of life and serious injuries.”
Ms. Keita added that she was “deeply shocked and dismayed,” and said the suspected perpetrators had been identified and arrested pending an investigation being done in collaboration with Congolese authorities. While she did not identify what nations the peacekeepers came from, she said that their countries had been informed so that legal proceedings could begin.
António Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, said he was “outraged” and “saddened” by the events and welcomed the decision to detain the peacekeeping officers, according to a statement by the deputy U.N. spokesman, Farhan Haq. Patrick Muyaya, a Congolese government spokesman, also condemned the killings in a statement.
Some government officials and the youth wing of the ruling party have been behind calls for anti-U.N. protests. Though some observers say that is partly to deflect from the government’s own shortcomings ahead of elections next year, a number of civil society groups have also supported calls for the departure of the U.N. mission.
In late June, Ms. Keita told the Security Council that groups like the M23 were “behaving increasingly like a conventional army, with sophisticated firepower and equipment” — threatening not just civilians and peacekeepers but the stability of the country’s eastern regions.
Congo has accused neighboring Rwanda of backing the M23, leading to cross-border shelling and a diplomatic standoff between the two nations. Congo also joined arms with Uganda last year to target the A.D.F., after Uganda accused it of conducting a series of bombings in the capital, Kampala.
Officially known as the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or MONUSCO, the current peacekeeping effort was authorized in 2010 by the Security Council to help safeguard civilians, deter armed groups and collaborate with the government in peace efforts. With a budget of over $1 billion, the mission had 12,835 uniformed personnel as of June, with troops and military members drawn from at least 10 countries, including India, Morocco, Nepal, South Africa and Uruguay, the U.N. said.
The deadly protests last week drew concern from the United States, with State Department spokesman Ned Price calling on authorities “to ensure the protection of MONUSCO sites and personnel and for protesters to express their sentiments peacefully.”
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will travel to Congo next week and meet with senior Congolese officials to discuss a number of issues, including fostering peace in eastern Congo and the wider Great Lakes region.
The killings on Sunday came just a day after Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the U.N. under-secretary-general for peace operations, arrived in Congo and met with officials including President Félix Tshisekedi and Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde. Mr. Lacroix said the discussions centered on strengthening cooperation with the government and shedding further light on the tensions. On Monday, he participated in an event in the eastern city of Goma city honoring the slain U.N. peacekeepers.
His arrival did not assuage Congolese officials and civilians, with some protesters hitting the streets in Beni territory in North Kivu Province. Francine Muyumba, a senator, also condemned Sunday’s shootings, saying the U.N. forces behaved “like an executioner” instead of protecting civilians.
“This is a systematic attack against a civilian population which is a crime against humanity,” she wrote in a post on Twitter.
Steve Wembi reported from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Abdi Latif Dahir from Nairobi, Kenya.