Seven Rwandan Hutu rebels killed in DR Congo fighting

Rwandan Hutu rebels stand guard in a dense forest outside Pinga, 150kms north west of Goma, DR Congo (AFP Photo/Lionel Healing)
Rwandan Hutu rebels stand guard in a dense forest outside Pinga, 150kms north west of Goma, DR Congo (AFP Photo/Lionel Healing)

Goma (DR Congo) (AFP) - Seven Rwandan rebels have been killed and at least 20 captured in the Democratic Republic of Congo in a government offensive that has widened to include swathes of the country's southeast, authorities said Sunday.

"Since the start of the operation four FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) have been killed in North Kivu and three in South Kivu," said government spokesman Lambert Mende.

After weeks of delay DR Congo launched a fresh offensive Tuesday against rebels active in the restive North and South Kivu provinces in the country's east.

Hutu rebels have been active in the area since older members of the movement first fled across the border from Rwanda in 1994.

The rebels are accused of taking part in the mass slaughter that year of some 800,000 people in Rwanda, mainly from the Tutsi minority, before a Tutsi-led rebel front seized power.

Mende also announced the offensive has grown to include territory in the nation's northern Katanga province, which borders Zambia and Angola.

DR Congo's east, which is rich in precious minerals, has been unstable for the past two decades, with tens of foreign and local armed groups operating there.

Six days into the government army campaign, rebels were fleeing clashes with soldiers in South Kivu, while fighting was fierce in North Kivu, which includes UNESCO World Heritage Site Virunga National Park.

"We are in the midst of guerilla warfare. The enemy knows the park and he is trying to resupply through ambushes," an army officer told AFP.

"We're still hunting them. The message we send to them is to turn themselves in for repatriation or resettlement," he added.

The FDLR is believed to number 1,500-2,000 fighters. The rebels have been implicated in serious human rights violations, including killings, rape, looting and the forcible enlistment of children.

The UN mission in DR Congo, MONUSCO, was to help with the offensive, but withdrew its offer after Kinshasa refused to remove two generals leading the campaign who are accused of human rights abuses by the United Nations.

"A minor setback has resulted in our partner MONUSCO not being with us, but we are not at war with MONUSCO," Mende said. "We want to do things for ourselves, we want to show that we can defend ourselves."