Armed forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo said an offensive against rebel groups in the country’s east has been launched while efforts continue to contain a deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus.
Army spokesman General Leon Kasonga announced the large-scale offensive on Thursday in the Beni region, an early epicentre of the more than yearlong Ebola outbreak.
“The launch was in Beni, but this operation targets all the armed groups that are unsettling our population,” Kasonga told the dpa news agency.
The offensive primarily targets Allied Democratic Forces rebels who have killed hundreds of civilians and security forces over the past few years and recruited children. Attacks have hampered Ebola containment efforts.
The northeast region borders Uganda and Rwanda. The DRC’s military offensive comes days after a meeting of regional military leaders on how to rid eastern DRC of rebel groups. But the DRC’s army is making clear that it is carrying out this new offensive alone.
An estimated 160 rebel groups with a total of more than 20,000 fighters are still active in the DRC’s east.
The motives for the various groups are not always clear, although it is believed they are mostly over control of land or minerals such as gold and cobalt.
The ADF, originally from Uganda, repeatedly carries out attacks around Beni. It has been accused of killing thousands of people, including United Nations peacekeepers.
The UN has tried to stabilise the country for the past 20 years with a 15,000-strong peacekeeping force.