A Congolese army operation aimed at flushing Ugandan rebels linked to Somalia’s Islamic al-Shabaab militia out of eastern Congo forced 90,000 civilians to flee their homes.
Violence is blocking relief efforts and the number of displaced is expected to rise, the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in an e-mail today. The clashes with the rebel Allied Democratic Forces- National Army for the Liberation of Uganda began in late June in the Beni area of North Kivu province, near the Ugandan border.
“We’ve decided to put an end to this phenomenon and clean up this region,” Major Sylvain Ekenge, an army spokesman, said in a phone interview today from Goma, capital of North Kivu. The operations have killed at least 30 rebels, Ekenge said.
The ADF-NALU was largely destroyed by Congolese and UN forces in 2005, according to the UN, though the group has rebuilt itself. The remaining rebels have been involved in the trafficking of diamonds and gold from Congo’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces, according to a 2007 report by the World Bank.
The group is also involved in poaching, extortion, illicit trade in timber and attacks on civilians, Ekenge said.
The ADF-NALU is on the U.S.’s Terrorist Exclusion List, which blocks members and foreigners who support the group from entering the U.S. Members of al-Shabaab, which claimed responsibility for the July 11 bombings in Kampala, Uganda, in which 76 people died, have been linked to the ADF-NALU, Ekenge said.
“They are forming a coalition,” he said. At least half of the ADF-NALU is Congolese, many of whom are of the same ethnic group as Ugandan members across the border, he said.
On July 28, rebels killed 15 civilians and two soldiers in a minibus on the way from a market near Kasindi on the Ugandan border, he said. Congo’s army estimates that about 350 rebels remain.
A second phase of operations against the rebels will begin soon, Ekenge said.
“We will clean up the northern part of the territory toward Orientale province,” he said. The first phase, which ended earlier this week, focused on the southern part of Beni territory towards the Ugandan border.
UN peacekeepers aren’t assisting the Congolese army in the offensive, Madnodje Mounoubai, spokesman for the UN mission in Congo, said by phone today from Kinshasa, the capital.
The Congolese army “did not approach us to prepare this operation,” he said. “It’s something they did on their own.”
Uganda’s army isn’t involved in the fighting either, though it is sharing information with Congo, Ekenge said.