Kinshasa: The defence minister for the Democratic Republic of Congo on Friday said the army was waging ‘war’ against two militia forces in the country’s troubled east.
Crispin Atama Thabe told journalists that government forces were tackling rebels in both South Kivu province and neighbouring North Kivu, where deaths were reported on both sides in recent days.
According to the army, it is fighting the Ugandan Islamist rebels of the Allied Democratic Force (ADF) in North Kivu, while battling the Congolese Yakutumba militia several hundred kilometres away in South Kivu.
“Our priorities are: the ADF, settled in the territory of Beni, and the armed group Yakutumba in the territory of Fizi,” Thabe said.
The army resumed its bombing in Beni, North Kivu, on Friday afternoon, according to a correspondent.
Earlier in the day, two army positions were attacked by suspected ADF rebels near the Ugandan border. Four rebels were killed, according to the region’s army spokesman Captain Mak Hazukay.
A military source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said five soldiers had died. Another source said the toll had been “heavy” but gave no further details.
North Kivu and South Kivu - the two provinces which border Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania - are a deeply troubled region.
Rival militia groups hold sway over large areas of territory, often competing for its rich mineral resources.
Army sources said on Friday a general commanding military operations in the east was ambushed as rebels launched fresh attacks.
A convoy that included General Philemon Yav, in charge of forces in the region, came under fire by the Yakutumba militia in Fizi district in South Kivu province late Thursday, a source said.
At least one soldier was killed and three were injured.
“We are at war and when there is a war, ambushes are possible,” the defence minister said, adding that it was “very regrettable” that men had died.
The attack came two days after gunmen in South Kivu abducted two members of the country’s powerful domestic intelligence agency, the National Information Agency (ANR), an army officer said. One of the two escaped.
In neighbouring North Kivu province, two army positions came under attack on Friday by suspected members of the ADF.
Last Saturday, the army announced an offensive in North Kivu against the ADF, which is suspected of murdering 14 UN peacekeepers last month.
Three troops were killed on Monday in an attack on Beni attributed to the ADF, a witness told AFP.
Meanwhile, the outgoing head of the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) said the country’s problems could only be solved by having a democratic government in place.
General Derrick Mgwebi, from South Africa, told reporters in Kinshasa on Friday: “Every time the political tension goes up, the tension between the armed groups goes up too.
“The problem of Congo cannot be solved by military or security means. It is a political, economic and social problem.”