Congolese authorities on Wednesday sought to allay concerns about the arrival of Ugandan troops in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo for an ongoing joint operation against a militia linked to Islamic State.
Witnesses saw hundreds of Ugandan soldiers entering Congo as both countries deployed special forces to secure bases of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia that they had hit with air and artillery strikes the previous day.
Government spokesperson Patrick Muyaya said the countries were cooperating against a common enemy. The ADF are accused of killing hundreds of civilians in eastern Congo since 2019 and carrying out a string of recent bombings in Uganda.
“We know it is an operation that some of our fellow citizens have doubts about for good reasons,” he told a news conference in the Kinshasa. “Both we and Uganda have an obligation to act together.”
The move has provoked unease in both capitals because of the Ugandan army’s conduct during Congo’s 1998-2003 civil war, for which Kinshasa is seeking billions of dollars of reparations. Uganda has called the amount ruinous.
Army spokesman Leon-Richard Kasonga declined to say how many Ugandan troops were in Congo, how long the joint mission would last, or what toll had been exacted on the ADF.
“Patience,” he told the briefing. “We’ve just started.”
President Felix Tshisekedi had for months lobbied neighbours for help. His own efforts to end decades of bloodshed in Congo’s east have been stymied by poor planning, corruption and insufficient funding, according to a parliamentary report.
“I have just seen 30 vehicles full of Ugandan soldiers entering Congo. I also saw two tanks,” said Nobili resident Blaise Bokassa. Another witness, a civil rights activist, said he had seen “many vehicles with hundreds of Ugandan soldiers”.
A Ugandan army spokesperson said she could not immediately comment.
Nelleke Van de Walle, from the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said the operation appeared to be more ambitious than the last time Uganda attacked the ADF in Congo, in 2017, when it said it had killed 100 fighters in air strikes.
Ugandan opposition lawmaker Joel Ssenyonyi said the government should have sought parliamentary permission for the deployment.
“We fear we could see the same illegal activities that happened during the past deployment – stealing gold and those other commodities.”
The ADF, which started as an uprising in Uganda but has been based in Congo since the late 1990s, pledged allegiance to Islamic State in 2019. However, United Nations researchers have found no evidence of Islamic State control over ADF operations.