LUCAPA (Angola)– Residents of Kapende, a Congolese neighbourhood in the Angolan town of Lucapa, scrawled messages on their homes to keep the looters away, but it did not work.

“Occupied”, “do not enter”, “home of an Angolan”: The writing remains visible on the wrecked houses belonging to Congolese from DR Congo (DRC) who have gone home as Angola has clamped down on illegal diamond mines and the migrants who worked them.

The destruction in Kapende, where no house remains occupied or intact, marked the culmination of three days of violence in Lucapa, a sprawling mining town in the northeast surrounded by some of the world’s richest diamond fields.

About 300,000 Congolese have fled Angola in the last few weeks, many of them in response to the violence in Lucapa at the beginning of October.

For many in the town, the violence was shocking in an area that had turned a blind eye to Congolese migration and where digging for diamonds provided a living. Politically, the upheaval threatens to further destabilize Congo ahead of elections in December and harm relations with Angola, an old ally.

The accounts of death and pillage contradict assertions by the Angolan government that Congolese migrants are returning home voluntarily and that only one person died, in a traffic accident. Angola denied accusations of massacres and abuses.

It says it is asserting its right to ensure national security and protect its natural resources. Angola says the effort, which it calls Operation Transparency, is part of a drive to reform the diamond sector and increase revenues from the country’s second largest export after oil.

Although home to some of the world’s most exciting diamond prospects, Angola has long been shunned by major mining companies due to corruption and a lack of transparency. The government has vowed radical change to put its sector on a par with Botswana and South Africa.

The United Nations refugee agency says it is concerned by the worsening humanitarian situation as throngs of people arrive in Kasai, a part of DRC where conflict killed up to 5,000 people and displaced 1.5 million in 2016 and 2017.

DRC summoned Angola’s ambassador, demanding a “comprehensive investigation to establish who is responsible for these wrongful acts”.

It remains unclear how many deaths were the result of police fire or of ethnic violence, but at least three people were killed by law enforcement, according to witnesses.

Pedro Sebastiao, Minister of State for Presidential Security and head of Operation Transparency, said: “They are completely false, the claims of massacres, abuses and violations committed by the authorities or by Angolan people.”

With their homes looted, the Congolese left in droves.