Ten civilians and a Ugandan militant died when Congolese troops clashed with rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo town of Beni on the day the United Nations Security Council renewed its MONUSCO peacekeeping mission until 2019.
The violence took place on Tuesday evening when rebels attacked military positions around Beni in North Kivu, Captain Mak Hazukay told AFP.
“We listed 10 dead civilians so far,” he said.
Michel Kakule, the lead physician at Beni hospital, told AFP some of the victims “had gunshot wounds while others had been attacked with machetes.”
A rebel from Uganda’s Allied Democratic Forces militia was also killed, Hazukay said, adding that fighting was ongoing.
Since January, Congolese troops have been engaged in a major military operation against the ADF.
The militia “is now conducting an asymmetrical war – when we attack them in one area, they get around it by attacking elsewhere,” said Hazukay.
The ADF is one of a number of armed groups that hold territory in eastern DR Congo that are battling for control of the region’s rich mineral resources. Created by Muslim radicals to oppose the rule of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, the militia has been present in the North Kivu area since 1995, and is accused of killing several hundred civilians there in the past three-and-a-half years.
The ADF was also accused of killing 15 U.N. peacekeepers from Tanzania in an attack in the Beni area last December that also left five Congolese soldiers dead.
UN MONUSCO mission renewed
DR Congo’s restive east has been wracked by violence for the past 20 years.
On Tuesday, the UN Security Council renewed the mandate of its huge MONUSCO peacekeeping mission until March 2019, tasking it with helping prepare for December elections aimed at ending the rule of President Joseph Kabila.
Western powers are turning up the pressure on Kabila to allow a peaceful transfer of power after the December 23 vote and rein in his security forces after dozens of protesters were killed.
Kinshasa authorities have set a date for the vote but Kabila, in power since 2001, has not clearly stated whether he will step aside, raising fears that the country will slide into all-out violence.
Under the resolution, MONUSCO will provide technical assistance and logistical support for the elections, help train the Congolese police and monitor human rights abuses which it will report to the council.
With more than 16,000 troops on the ground, it is the U.N.’s biggest peacekeeping mission and has been present in the country since 1999.
Under pressure from the United States, the Security Council last year reduced the troop ceiling for MONUSCO by about 3,600 military personnel.
This year, the ceiling remained unchanged, with 16,215 troops, nearly 1,450 police and 4,000 civilians.
The council requested that U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres make plans for beefing up the peacekeeping mission if needed, “looking at all options” such as sending reinforcements from other missions.
Guterres will report to the council in 90 days on the contingency planning.
But the DRC’s ambassador to the U.N., Ignace Gata Mavita, said the mission’s focus should be fighting rebel groups rather than supporting elections.
Its role should be “to combat armed groups to protect civilians and restore peace and security in the east of our country,” he said
Mavita also renewed calls for MONUSCO’s exit from the DRC.
Army issues Ituri ultimatum
Meanwhile, Congolese troops in neighbouring Ituri province on Wednesday issued an ultimatum to armed groups responsible for a series of bloody attacks on civilians.
Since December, scores of people have been killed in clashes involving the Hema and Lendu communities, cattle herders and farmers who have a long history of violence over access to land.
The bloodshed has so far claimed at least 130 lives, according to an unofficial toll compiled by AFP, with around 40 people killed in mid-March in an attack on the Djugu by assailants using guns, machetes and arrows.
Addressing those behind the attacks, army spokesman Lieutenant Jules Ngongo said they had “48 hours” to lay down their arms or face “a blistering attack” by the army.
He said 10 soldiers and 28 “attackers” had been killed in Ituri since the start of February when Congolese troops began a crackdown aimed at halting the bloodshed.
The violence has forced thousands of people to flee their homes in the past two months, with the U.N. putting the figure at around 57,000 while locals put the figure closer to 300,000.
Last week, the government announced plans to hold a peace conference in Ituri to discuss the violence and those displaced by it, but without saying when it would take place.
With reporting from AFP