UN warns of long fight against DR Congo massacres

Kinshasa (AFP) - The head of the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday warned of a long battle ahead to stop militants who have hacked over 250 people to death in the country's restive east.

"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.

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

More than 250 people have been killed since October in attacks in the town and area of Beni, which follow a similar pattern -- the assailants arrive at night armed with machetes and slaughter residents.

In the months since the massacres began the Congolese government, the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO and several diplomats have pinned blame for the killing on Muslim rebels known as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).

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

During his brief comments to reporters Kobler never mentioned the ADF, but shortly before he spoke MONUSCO spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Felix-Prosper Basse said the rebels were the target of the campaign to stop the massacres.

While the residents of Beni and its surrounding area have claimed the DR Congo's military (FARDC) and UN peacekeepers have been too passive, Kobler implied that locals aren't sufficiently helping the government and the UN mission.

"We have to reestablish ... trust" between "MONUSCO, FARDC and residents," he said adding the UN was determined to "protect people."

Kobler said two local boys wounded in recent violence died when a UN aid helicopter trying to evacuate them couldn't land because residents were throwing rocks at it.

The locals must "support us, we have to cooperate," he said. "We are on the same side, we want to fight together."