A joint military operation by the army of Democratic Republic of Congo and the United Nations peacekeeping force was dealt a deadly blow on Thursday, when seven UN peacekeepers were killed in the eastern part of the country.
Ten other peacekeeping troops were wounded, and another is missing, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York. He added that the dead included six peacekeepers from Malawi and one from Tanzania.
Several Congolese were also killed or wounded in the joint operation, he said.
We are holding Kididiwe at present, after violent fighting with an armed group. At present, we are evacuating wounded Congolese troops and Blue Helmets.
The deaths mark the biggest loss by the large UN force in the Democratic Republic of Congo since the rebels killed 15 troops nearly a year ago.
Joining forces to fight the ADF
Earlier Thursday, General Bernard Commins, deputy head of the MONUSCO force, said a joint operation had been launched with DRC troops on Tuesday against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a jihadi group blamed for bloody attacks on civilians.
The offensive aimed at Kididiwe, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Beni, a city of between 200,000 and 300,000 inhabitants, said Commins.
“We are holding Kididiwe at present, after violent fighting with an armed group. At present, we are evacuating wounded Congolese troops and Blue Helmets,” he told AFP. He added he was unable to provide any information about reports at that time of fatalities.
Commins described Kididiwe as a “major stronghold” of the ADF.
The region is also battling an Ebola outbreak that has left more than 200 dead. Insecurity is hampering efforts to contain the disease, the UN spokesman said.
Who are the ADF?
The ADF is an Islamist-rooted group that rose in western Uganda in 1995, led by Jamil Mukulu, a Christian turned Muslim.
Forced out of Uganda, it operates in the border area in the DRC’s North Kivu province.ALSO READ: Museveni accuses UN, DRC of harbouring ADF rebels
The ADF has been blamed for recruiting and using child soldiers, killing hundreds of civilians since 2014, as well as 15 Tanzanian peacekeepers, who died in an attack in December 2017.
On Monday, MONUSCO’s head, Leila Zerrougui, sounded the alarm over violence in the eastern DRC, saying it cast a shadow over the country’s elections on December 23.
“I have grown increasingly alarmed over the situation in Beni in recent months, where we continue to face major challenges in implementing our mandate,” she added.
“There is a potential for armed group interference in elections in specific areas throughout eastern DRC,” she said.
MONUSCO has around 17,000 members, making it one of the UN’s biggest peacekeeping operations. Created in 1999 during the Second Congo War, it has an annual budget of $1.153 billion (1.02 billion euros).