UN Sends Troops to East Congo City as Army Fights Rebels

Updated on
  • Soldiers moved to deter any attack on city in South Kivu
  • Military says thwarted rebel offensive on Lake Tanganyika

The United Nations deployed troops to a city in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo as the national army said it fought a rebel group on nearby Lake Tanganyika.

The unspecified number of troops from the UN’s Congo mission were moved to Uvira, South Kivu province, on Wednesday after clashes in the area to “deter any attack to the city and to avoid the escalation of the conflict,” it said in a statement. Congo’s military said it’s been fighting a coalition of armed groups led by a militia known as Mai-Mai Yakutumba in the hills near Uvira and early Thursday thwarted an attempt to attack the city by boat.

“Our naval force intercepted and fought them,” spokesman Major Louis-Claude Tshimwanga said Thursday by phone. One rebel boat was sunk and Congolese forces have surrounded three other vessels, he said.

The UN has more than 16,000 military personnel in Congo, which is almost the size of Western Europe and the world’s largest source of cobalt. For two decades the country has struggled to defeat dozens of local and foreign militias in the east, which has deposits of tin, gold and coltan. Uvira sits near the border with Burundi, on the north end of Lake Tanganyika, the world’s longest freshwater lake.

William Yakutumba, the leader of the the Mai-Mai Yakutumba group, this week made what he called an “official declaration of war against the regime of Joseph Kabila,” Congo’s president. In an audio statement posted Sept. 26 on YouTube, he accused Kabila of supporting the “Balkanization of our country,” mishandling the nation’s wealth and violating the constitution by remaining in power beyond the end of his constitutionally mandated second term.

The government “kills and massacres peaceful citizens who dare to descend into the streets to demonstrate their unhappiness,” Yakutumba said, referring to sporadic protests in Congo’s major cities by people calling for delayed elections to be held and for Kabila, in power since 2001, to step aside. Authorities have denied using excessive force. Kabila told the UN General Assembly in New York last week that Congo has made “irreversible” progress in preparing credible and peaceful elections, without giving a date for the vote.

In the UN statement, the special representative of secretary-general in Congo, Maman Sidikou, urged the armed groups to cease hostilities.

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