Hunt­ing a shad­owy mili­tia in DR Congo

The Al­lied Demo­cratic Forces has no known leader and its ide­ol­ogy and mo­tives re­main un­clear

Muscat Daily - - WORLD - John Wes­sels

“I am al­ways an­tic­i­pat­ing an at­tack,” says South African sol­dier Mai­jeke of how it feels to be in DR Congo’s ‘tri­an­gle of death’, where he is part of a UN peace­keep­ing force help­ing the Con­golese army hunt down a mili­tia group that is slaugh­ter­ing civil­ians.

There has been a re­cent spike in vi­o­lence in this volatile east­ern re­gion of the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo blamed on the Al­lied Demo­cratic Forces (ADF), an armed group.

Just last week, six civil­ians were killed dur­ing a night at­tack in the city of Beni by the ADF, which has no known leader and whose ide­ol­ogy and mo­tives re­main un­clear.

A pho­to­jour­nal­ist trav­elled for three days with 30 sol­diers from the UN mis­sion MONUSCO and the Con­golese army to the trou­bled North Kivu prov­ince, where the ADF has killed hun­dreds of civil­ians since 2014.

On Fri­day, af­ter re­ports of heavy mor­tar and ma­chine gun fire, the troops headed to the town of Oicha, north of Beni and near the bor­der with Uganda.

The town’s res­i­dents greeted them by throw­ing stones.

“The civil­ians get frus­trated with us and MONUSCO; some­times we ar­rive late, we have to fight harder to help the com­mu­nity change its mind about us,” one of the Con­golese sol­diers said on the con­di­tion of anonymity.

Sev­eral homes in Oicha had been looted by ADF mem­bers, who melt back into the jun­gle af­ter raids and at­tacks.

While the troops in­spected the looted homes, deaf­en­ing ma­chine gun­fire rang out from the jun­gle.

It seemed to be com­ing from near the town of Mbau, where 20 civil­ians were shot dead by the ADF in May.

The troops are based out­side Oicha, where the blue hel­mets sleep un­easily - the ADF killed 15 Tan­za­nian peace­keep­ers in De­cem­ber in the dead­li­est at­tack on UN forces in 24 years.

And the ADF, which is thought to have killed a to­tal of more than 700 civil­ians over the last four years, reg­u­larly at­tacks Con­golese army bases for weapons, am­mu­ni­tion and med­i­cal sup­plies.

Heart­break­ing

“This is my fourth de­ploy­ment in the DRC, my first was in 2006,” said UN peace­keeper Mai­jeke. “This is the most in- tense de­ploy­ment for me. The big­gest dif­fer­ence this time is the es­ca­la­tion in the killings of civil­ians, this is heart­break­ing for me; a se­ri­ous con­cern.”

When the ADF killed 20 civil­ians in Beni in Septem­ber, the lo­cals con­demned the fail­ures of the Con­golese army and the UN mis­sion.

How­ever MONUSCO main­tains its in­ter­ven­tion has pre­vented even greater car­nage.

In the area known as the ‘tri­an­gle of death’ be­tween Beni, Mbau and Ka­mango, the troops face an en­emy that knows ev­ery se­cret of the dense jun­gle and likely has in­for­mants in many com­mu­ni­ties.

Last Satur­day, the troops headed to the scene of a par­tic­u­larly vi­o­lent ADF on­slaught a few days ear­lier.

Mem­bers of the mili­tia were said to have used two women as hu­man shields dur­ing a shootout with Con­golese troops that lasted four hours. Both women were killed.

Ev­ery­thing seemed quiet when the troops ar­rived, ex­cept for the spo­radic sound of gun­fire.

The next day, Sun­day, gun­shots rang out again - this time close to their base. The sol­diers scram­bled to put on their gear, but the jun­gle qui­etened down once their at­ten­tion was turned to it.

What do they want?

Over three days hunt­ing the ADF, some of the mys­tery sur­round­ing them dis­si­pated.

It was clear they are welle­quipped with heavy weapons and well or­gan­ised. Their guer­rilla tac­tics of sud­den, bru­tal as­saults are usu­ally to gain strate­gic po­si­tions, or needed sup­plies.

But much re­mains un­known. How many are they? Who is in charge? Who is arm­ing them?

And most of all, what is their goal?

Both Uganda and the DRC in­sist they have a ter­ror mo­tive, but many ob­servers say this is too sim­plis­tic and there has been no proven link with the global ter­ror­ist un­der­ground.

The ADF started out in 1989 with the aim of over­throw­ing Uganda’s Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni.

But it went on to ab­sorb other rebel fac­tions into its ranks and started car­ry­ing out at­tacks in 1995.

Forced west­wards by the Ugan­dan army, the group re­lo­cated most of its ac­tiv­i­ties to DRC, find­ing a lu­cra­tive niche in the vast cen­tral African coun­try’s law­less, re­source-rich east.

For Mai­jeke, the most im­por­tant thing is end­ing the vi­o­lence.

“There has to be a di­a­logue be­tween the FARDC (Con­golese army) and the ADF,” he says. “The fight­ing is at the ex­pense of in­no­cent civil­ians - mouths must fin­ish this con­flict, not bul­lets.”

(AFP)

A sol­dier of the Armed Forces of the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo is seen at a mil­i­tary base out­side Oicha on Oc­to­ber 6

(AFP)

FARDC sol­diers seen gear­ing up as gun­fire erupts out­side Oicha on Oc­to­ber 7

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