Militias in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are uniting in opposition to President Joseph Kabila, a senior UN official told a news conference in Geneva.
In 2017, a brutal conflict in Congo’s south-western Kasai region drew international attention and condemnation because of atrocities by pro-government militias. Less attention was paid to escalating violence by armed groups in eastern provinces bordering Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and Zambia.
“What we hear is while initially some armed groups were in it for themselves – they would burn a village and pillage, rape, burn and scorch the earth – it seems now they have more of a political agenda,” said Jean-Philippe Chauzy, chief of mission for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Congo.
“We now have it seems a coalition of various militia groups – it’s a myriad, a cluster of illegal irregular armed groups, about 70 of them at the last count, probably more – that seem to be coalescing on the political agenda, which is transition without President Kabila.”
Kabila refuses to step down, despite his mandate expiring in 2016 and has delayed an election until December 2018.
The eastern militias are hard to track, with constantly changing identities and areas of control. Chauzy said they benefit from the Congolese army’s deployment to Kasai.
In December UN peacekeepers repelled an offensive against Uvira, less than 20 miles from Bujumbura on Lake Tanganyika, and a similar attack could happen again, he said.
“The assault on Uvira was not really repelled by the Congolese army but by MONUSCO, the UN force in DRC, who deployed attack helicopters and sank some boats, because it was more a naval assault.”
He declined to comment on remarks by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, blaming the United Nations for “preserving terrorism” in Congo.
Chauzy said reports of violence were continuing, with shots fired on Wednesday around the airport in the Kasai city Kananga, where four died in January.
Earlier this month an attack by armed groups on a military encampment in North Kivu province left “scores dead”, a World Health Organisation (WHO) report said.
IOM said the humanitarian situation in Congo had reached breaking point, with a huge gap in funding, 7.7 million people suffering an acute food emergency and 4.3 million displaced.
Flash floods have hit Kinshasa, killing 45 and spreading cholera.