Security forces in Democratic Republic of Congo have arrested about 100 armed men blamed for killing dozens of policemen in an attack in the country’s isolated north last month, the government said.
Villagers killed 47 policemen sent to quell ethnic clashes over fishing rights between two villages in Equateur province, according to Congo’s UN peacekeeping mission.
The government disputed the UN’s death toll but vowed last week to stamp out what it called the start of a new uprising.
“There were about 100 young men armed with hunting rifles, knives, machetes, AK-47s, and machineguns. They were arrested and disarmed,” Information Minister Lambert Mende told Reuters, referring to an overnight raid on the town of Dongo.
There were no casualties in the police sweep and the group put up only limited resistance, Mende said, adding that more fighters might have disappeared into the bush.
Residents from the neighbouring villages of Enyele and Monzaya, representing two different ethnic groups, have been involved in feuding over fishing rights in recent months.
About 16 000 residents fled across the border into the neighbouring Congo Republic after the attack on the police late last month.
Armed villagers had held Dongo until security forces entered the town late on Saturday, discovering burned homes and an unknown number of bodies.
“It’s finished now in Dongo, and we are asking the population to return. Now they will begin the negotiations phase, because they still must live together,” Mende said.
The clashes were not linked to simmering fighting in Congo’s eastern borderlands, where the army, backed by thousands of UN peacekeepers, is trying to eradicate local, Rwandan and Ugandan rebels who roam the mineral-rich regions.
The government of Congo has been struggling to restore state control over the vast former Belgian colony since a 1998-2003 war and humanitarian disaster in which an estimated 5.4 million people died.
Pic: AK-47 weapon