The European Union imposed sanctions Monday on nine more officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including government spokesman Lambert Mende and Kalev Mutondo, the head of the National Intelligence Service, amid unrest after President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step aside.
The people targeted by asset freezes and travel bans “hold positions of responsibility in the state administration and in the chain of command of the security forces,” the EU said in a statement.
They join seven people targeted by EU sanctions in December after clashes with protesters against Kabila last year left more than 50 people dead.
Brussels had warned in March that it could impose fresh measures if political and military leaders blocked a deal with the opposition over Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his term late last year.
“The European Union remains seriously concerned by the deterioration of the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” the EU said.
The sanctions also hit the current and former DRC ministers for the interior Ramazani Shadari and Evariste Boshab, respectively, the governor of Central Kasai province Alex Kande Mupompa and the former governor of Haut-Katanga Jean-Claude Kazembe as well as senior officers and a militia leader, the EU said.
They were listed for “having contributed to acts constituting serious human rights violations in the DRC, by planning, directing or committing them.”
Mende, currently in China, was sanctioned “for the repressive media policy” in the country, it added.
A government source in Kinshasa told AFP that the situation “is very worrisome” and accused the EU of trying to “destabilise the DRC, like Libya or Iraq”.
Tension has been mounting across the vast mineral-rich nation of 71 million people since December, when Kabila’s second and final term officially ended but elections failed to be held.
Under an agreement brokered with the Catholic Church on New Year’s Eve, Kabila, 45, would remain in office until elections in late 2017, ruling in tandem with a transitional watchdog and a new premier chosen from within the ranks of the opposition “Rassemblement” (Unity) coalition.
The Kasai region in particular has seen a major spike in violence since September, when government forces killed Kamwina Nsapu, a tribal chief and militia leader who had rebelled against Kabila.
In its statement, while the EU “firmly condemned all acts of violence,” it said reports of excessive force by Congolese forces in Kasai were worrying and called on authorities to “act in keeping with human rights laws”.
The deadly violence between government forces and tribal militias in Kasai has forced more than a million people from their homes over the past eight months, the UN said, and has left nearly 400,000 children at risk of dying from hunger.
Violence in the region has left at least 400 people dead since September, according to the UN, which has reported finding 40 mass graves, while two UN researchers investigating the violence were abducted and killed.