More than 3,500 Congolese soldiers, supported by 600 UN troops and helicopter gunships, launched attacks Dec. 24 on guerillas operating in the eastern Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sixteen government troops and some 35 guerillas are reported killed in fighting near the city of Beni in Nord-Kivu province. An Indian blue beret peacekeeper was killed and four of his colleagues wounded when their camp was hit by a guerilla rocket-propelled grenade. But 300 Nepalese peacekeepers and 1,500 government troops captured the guerilla-held village of Nioka, 50 miles north-east of Bunia, the main town in Ituri district. The guerilla militia the operation was launched to uproot, the ADF/NALU (Allied Democratic Forces/National Army for the Liberation of Uganda), is seeking the overthrow of President Yoweri Museveni’s regime in Uganda, across the eastern border.
The UN’s 17,000-strong Congo peacekeeping force—its biggest in the world—is trying to establish order in the wake of a five-year war estimated to have claimed nearly 4 million lives, mainly through hunger and disease.
The anti-guerilla offensive comes as results from last week’s referendum in DRC show an overwhelming “Yes” to a new constitution intended to help end the country’s conflict. This paves the way for a general election next year for the country’s first democratic government in three decades. But if the current transitional government cannot keep control in the east, observers fear voting will be disrupted in the remote interior, where access is often only by boat or air. (UK Telegraph, Australia SBS, Dec. 27; Reuters, Dec. 26; Reuters, Dec. 24)
See our last post on the politics of Central Africa.