Democratic Republic of Congo’s army said Thursday, October 31 that it had launched “large-scale operations” against armed militias in the country’s troubled east.
“The DRC armed forces launched large-scale operations overnight Wednesday to eradicate all domestic and foreign armed groups that plague the east of the country and destabilize the Great Lakes region,” General Léon Richard Kasonga, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of DR Congo (FARDC), told AFP.
“The operation was launched from Nyaleke [in Beni territory], where artillery shelled rebel positions,” he said. “Ground troops have been engaged since this morning.”
The FARDC tweeted that “a series of large-scale operations against ADF militiamen in Beni territory as well as satellite armed groups” had been launched.
“These operations will be conducted by our army without any foreign support,” it added.
Five Great Lakes countries – the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda – decided last week to coordinate their military operations in the region, AFP reported.
MONUSCO, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in DR Congo, has supported Congolese troops in the region, but has ruled out giving any support to foreign forces.
“We have no mandate to support foreign forces who enter the DRC,” MONUSCO head Leila Zerrougui said last week.
The Congolese army shared a video with the media showing tanks firing shells and soldiers taking positions on a dirt road in a mostly deserted village. Scattered gunfire could be heard in the background.
Actualite.cd reported that distant detonations of heavy weapons could be heard from the city of Beni on Wednesday night.
The impoverished central African country has been wracked by conflict near its eastern border, with many of the militias having evolved from the two Congo wars (1996-1997 and 1998-2003).
The Beni region, in the North Kivu province which borders Uganda and Rwanda, has been particularly affected by militia violence.
Among the militias troubling the Kivu area are the Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamist-rooted Ugandan armed group that has been linked to Islamic State Central Africa Province, and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
Both groups have been blamed for a string of atrocities in eastern DRC, but they are also a source of political friction between the DRC and its neighbors because of their cross-border nature.
The Congolese army has in recent weeks been significantly increasing the number of personnel in the Beni region. Earlier this month, the government said there were 21,000 soldiers in Beni, almost doubling the forces previously deployed. President Felix Tshisekedi ordered the increase “to launch a final assault against all national and foreign armed groups with a view to restoring total peace in the Far North.”
DR Congo’s government has in the past accused neighboring governments of seeking to destabilize the country, while those accused have in turn have said DRC is a haven for groups that oppose them.
With reporting from AFP