Beni, DR Congo | AFP | Ten civilians and a Ugandan militant died when Congolese troops clashed with rebels in the flashpoint town of Beni in Democratic Republic of Congo’s troubled east, an army spokesman said Wednesday.
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.
A rebel from Uganda’s Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia was also killed, he said, adding that fighting was ongoing.
Michel Kakule, the lead physician at Beni hospital, told AFP some of the victims “had gunshot wounds while others had been attacked with machetes.”
It sparked an angry backlash among locals “who blocked off several main roads in the town in protest over the murder of 10 civilians,” said Gilbert Kambale, who works for a civil society organisation.
Since January, Congolese troops have been engaged in a major military operation against the ADF but it has not managed to stop the bloodshed in and around Beni.
The ADF “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 the eastern DR Congo that are battling for control of the region’s rich mineral resources.
The militia group, which was created by Muslim radicals to oppose the rule of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, has been present in the North Kivu area since 1995 where it stands accused of killing several hundred civilians in the past three-and-a-half years.
It has also been accused of killing 15 UN peacekeepers from Tanzania in a deadly attack in the Beni area last December.
– Army issues Ituri ultimatum –
Meanwhile, Congolese troops operating in Ituri, a neighbouring province which has also been hit by violence, 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 UN putting the figure at around 57,000 while locals put the figure closer to 300,000.
Last week, Kinshasa 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.
The government has said there will be a peace conference in Ituri, and there are also plans for President Joseph Kabila to visit the area.
– UN 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 for another year, tasking it with helping prepare for December elections aimed at ending the rule of President Joseph Kabila.
With more than 16,000 troops on the ground, it is the UN’s biggest peacekeeping mission and has been present in the country since 1999.
But the DRC’s ambassador to the UN, 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
The ambassador also renewed calls for MONUSCO’s exit from the DRC. The origins of the UN peacekeeping mission go back nearly 20 years.