UN and DR Congo re-launch hunt for militants blamed for massacres

Members of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo stand near a UN armored vehicle in Beni on October 23, 2014 (AFP Photo/Alain Wandimoyi) (AFP/File)

Goma (DR Congo) (AFP) - Democratic Republic of Congo and UN forces are renewing a hunt for Ugandan rebels in a corner of the DRC's restive east who are blamed for slaughtering 260 local people, officials announced Tuesday.

Since Saturday, joint forces in the northern reaches of the North Kivu province have been searching for the Muslim insurgents belonging to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).

The government soldiers aim to "dismantle the remnants of the ADF who are still in the area," Colonel Celestin Ngelka, spokesman for the operation, told AFP by phone.

The focus of the hunt is the Ruwenzori mountain range which begins 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the area where most of the massacres have taken place.

Authorities declined to say how many soldiers were being deployed. The UN's mission, known as MONUSCO, had 1,500 peacekeepers in the North Kivu province on December 10 and the DRC's military (FARDC) is roughly 8,000-strong.

The area has seen a string of massacres since October in which attackers, mostly armed with machetes, killed around 260 residents in their villages during night-time raids in the area and town of Beni. Authorities have pinned the blame for the slaughter on the Ugandan militants.

The rebels were driven out of their homeland in 1995, and have been accused for years of pillaging villages and forcing locals in the DRC to fight for them. They are also believed to fund themselves from the lucrative smuggling of wood.

Congo's military has targeted the ADF, now believed to number only 400, in several previous operations but has failed to root them out permanently.

The operation that resumed Saturday originally began in January and managed to weaken the ADF before halting abruptly in August when the insurgents' commander died, authorities said.

"These are terrorists, these are criminals, it is an asymmetric battle that is very, very difficult to manage," Martin Kobler, the head of the UN mission in DR Congo, told reporters recently.

"We cannot win this battle quickly," he said.

The UN is providing logistical, tactical and medical support to the operation.