Local sources in Goma, DRC, Wednesday gave an initial report where they said some 10 people were killed after Congolese soldiers entered a radio station and a place of worship amid attempts to stop a religious sect from holding a demonstration against U.N. peacekeepers.
An internal army document consulted by AFP Thursday, and verified by security officials gave a death toll of 48 people, in addition to a slain policeman, and 75 people wounded.
The document also said soldiers seized several bladed weapons and arrested 168 people, including the leader of the Christian-animist sect, which is named "Natural Judaic and Messianic Faith towards the Nations."
Congolese pro-democracy activist group LUCHA Thursday placed the death toll at "close to 50."
A government statement released late Thursday said the death toll is "43 dead, with 56 injured and 158 people apprehended, including the sect leader."
Government supported "the investigation opened by the military auditor ... so that those responsible can be brought to justice," added the statement.
Two unverified video clips circulating on social media on Thursday appeared to show Congolese soldiers throwing lifeless bodies -some drenched in blood- into the back of a military vehicle.
The U.N.'s peacekeeping mission in eastern Congo, known as MONUSCO, expressed its condolences in a statement and said it remained concerned by the threats of violence.
It also said it "encourages the Congolese authorities to conduct a prompt and independent investigation and calls them to treat those detained humanely and to respect their rights."
A statement released by Human Rights Watch, HRW, said "Congolese security forces shot and killed dozens of protesters, and wounded scores more."
The rights group called for “senior military officials who ordered the use of unlawful lethal force” to be suspended, investigated and held accountable “in fair and public trials.”
Thomas Fessy, senior Congo researcher at HRW, accused the military of using unlawful means to block the demonstrations.
The military appeared “to have fired into a crowd to prevent a demonstration, an extremely callous as well as unlawful way to enforce a ban,” he said.
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.
MONUSCO 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.
Information for this report came from AFP and Reuters.