The US imposed sanctions on the leader of an Islamist rebel group and five others for serious human rights abuses including mass rape, torture and killings in eastern Congo, the US Treasury said.
Congolese officials accuse the rebel Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), originally from Uganda, of killing more than 100 people in raids on villages over the last six weeks, hampering efforts to end an Ebola epidemic.
The group has been fighting in the dense jungles of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since the mid-1990s, where it carried out massacres, kidnappings and looting, often in collaboration with other local militias and leaders.
According to the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), ADF leader Musa Baluku assisted the group “through recruitment, logistics, administration, financing, intelligence, and operations co-ordination”.
The ADF “continues to perpetuate widespread violence and innumerable human rights abuses including the abduction, recruitment and use of children during attacks and other violent operations”.
The sanctions allow the US government to seize property or accounts the fighters have in the US and prohibits anyone in the US doing business with them.
“These sanctions will help expose the financial network of ADF rebels around the world and whether they are involved in money laundering,” Carly Nzanzu Kasivita, governor of North Kivu province, told Reuters.
Baluku took over the group after former leader Jamil Mukulu’s arrest in Tanzania four years ago.
Since then several ADF attacks were claimed by Islamic State, although there is a lack of evidence linking the groups said Daniel Fahey, visiting professor at the US University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
“ISIS claims are worth noting, but also appear to be aspirational — asserting relevance at a time when they have grown weaker and lost territorial control,” said Fahey, a former member of the UN panel of experts on Congo.
“Sanctions are unlikely to have much impact in the short-term, but they are a sign the US government is taking violence in Beni seriously and pursuing non-military means to address it,” he told Reuters.
The army began large-scale operations to uproot the ADF on October 30, triggering a surge in alleged reprisal attacks on civilians.