UN peacekeepers deployed in DRC to counter new wave of violence

Sunday June 16 2024
EA ADF Hunt 2#1

A soldier from Monusco on patrol to hold off attacks by the ADF in eastern DR Congo. FILE PHOTO | AFP


UN peacekeepers have started deploying troops in more areas of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to deal with a new wave of violence from various armed groups.

Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said on Wednesday that the decision to deploy troops came after members of the Zaire and CODECO armed groups clashed at a mining site about 40km from Bunia in Ituri Province.

According to the latest report by UN experts, the war has escalated, partly because of the actions of the Voluntary Combatants for the Defence of the Homeland (Wazalendo) who, while fighting against the rebels, are also becoming a source of insecurity for civilians.

Wazalendo have often claimed they are defending their homeland, and are fighting against the M23 in North Kivu.

The government has since banned them from carrying weapons in Goma, the provincial capital.

“We have taken a number of decisions, in particular, we no longer want to see any Voluntary Combatants for the Defence of the Homeland (Wazalendo) in town with a weapon,” said Maj-Gen Peter Cirimwami Nkuba, military governor of North Kivu. While the government says those opposed to foreign interference should be supported, it too is concerned about the atrocities.


Patrick Muyaya, Government Spokesman, said: “We cannot prevent these Congolese from defending their homeland because, on the other side, you have people who come to massacre, but that should in no way be an excuse for attacking civilians.”

Since May 25, a series of attacks from the Islamist Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in Ituri and North Kivu provinces has led to 100 civilian deaths, UN figures show.

This makes ADF now the country’s biggest headache, after the M23. The ADF are not inherently Congolese but originally from Uganda, where they are branded terrorists.

The ADF are the reason North Kivu has been plunged into mourning since late last month. They have lived in the eastern Congo forests since 1995, but they have been conducting most of their attacks in Uganda.

The latest deadly attacks took place in Beni territory, where the Ugandan and Congolese armies are supposed to be operating. Since November 2021, the two armies have been tracking down the ADF in a joint operation.

“Since mid-October 2023, ADF military activities have intensified, particularly in the northern part of Beni territory and in the south of Ituri province. The ADF remained the armed group that committed the highest number of murders in the DRC in 2023, with more than 1,000 people killed, mainly civilians.,”the report by UN experts states.

Despite this massacre, the Congolese government asserts that that operation had limited the assailants’ might.

Read: Why DRC turned south for help on conflict in the east

“Operations to track down these terrorists have made it possible to neutralise several of them and free a good number of civilian hostages,” said a government dispatch.

The escalation of violence is raising concerns, however. Bruno Lemarquis, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in DRC, expressed deep concern about the continuing violence and the deterioration in the humanitarian situation.

“If this violence persists, it risks further aggravating the already precarious humanitarian situation in the provinces of lturi, North Kivu and South Kivu,” he said. “Here, more than 900,000 newly displaced people were registered between January and April 2024, bringing the total number of displaced people in these three provinces to more than 5.6 million, out of a total of 7.3 million in the country.”


According to the UN, the number of victims continues to rise, particularly as a result of violence perpetrated by armed actors. In the first five months of this year, more than 470 people were killed in Ituri, in violent incidents against civilians in the territories of Djugu, Irumu and Mambasa, where the ADF and the local armed group Codeco operate.

Juvenal Munubo, a former MP, said DRC’s battle against M23, which Kinshasa accuses Rwanda of funding, has strained DRC’s reach.

“We have to admit that the military strategy has shown its limits,” he said of the country’s fight against armed groups in the troubled provinces. “Has the time not come, five months after the elections, to convene a security forum in the east to evaluate all the previous strategies in order to better protect Congolese citizens?” Mr Munubo said.

Some members of civil society in the DRC accuse the government of focusing primarily on M23, ignoring the other armed groups. The government rejects these accusations and maintains that efforts are being made on all fronts.

Meanwhile, the Congolese army has been facing off with the M23 in the town of Kanyabayonga. Home to more than a million people, Kanyabayonga is a strategic zone.

The FARDC and the Southern African Development Community mission in the DRC have focused on M23 since February, but new violence from other groups is now a cause of distraction.

Read: East DRC's North Kivu Province struggles with conflict

At a time when pressure is building around the towns, the SADC troops are positioned in and around the city of Goma to ward off the M23.

Some local sources say that the troops have been engaged in fighting. At the end of May, 13 South African soldiers from the SADC mission were wounded, while one was killed.

The commander of the SADC Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Maj-Gen Monwabisi Dyakopu, said the SADC troops in the DRC have “an offensive mandate” against all types of violent groups.


“In accordance with SAMIRDC’s mandate, in cooperation with the FARDC, our troops will conduct operations to neutralise negative forces and illegal armed groups in the east of the DRC in order to restore and maintain peace and security, create a secure environment and protect civilians and their property in the event of imminent threats and attacks,” Gen Dyakopu said.

According to him, these operations aim to open up supply routes and ensure that civilians are free from intimidation, displacement and murder so that communities can go about their daily lives without interference or threat.

During operations, he said, SAMIDRC respects human rights aspects as well as the provisions of the law of armed conflict under international humanitarian law.

But it is clear that the ADF emergence after months of relative lull may upend the strategy, which initially focused on M23.