KINSHASA The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Democratic Republic of Congo will deploy more troops to copper-rich Katanga province to help fight worsening militia violence there, the U.N. force commander said on Wednesday.
Katanga has been spared much of the violent disorder that has plagued large swathes of the vast Central African nation for nearly two decades. But the southern province, home to some of the world's largest copper reserves, has seen a rise in attacks by armed Bakata-Katanga secessionists since last year.
Hundreds of rebels attacked the Katangan capital Lubumbashi in 2013 before surrendering after battles with security forces. Fighting again approached the city in January.
General Carlos Dos Santos Cruz, head of the U.N. military force in Congo, said additional troops would be deployed to protect civilians in the so-called "triangle of death", one of the regions hardest hit by the violence.
The 22,000-strong U.N. mission, known as MONUSCO, now has only 450 soldiers deployed to Katanga.
"We are going to deploy one company, about 100 to 120 men. Then we want to...launch joint operations with the Congolese army," Dos Santos Cruz told a news conference in the capital Kinshasa.
The Bakata-Katanga militia is demanding independence for Katanga, whose rich mineral deposits have attracted international mining companies including Freeport-McMoRan and Glencore.
Violence in Katanga has not reached the intensity seen in Congo's eastern borderlands where the U.N.-backed army last year defeated the M23 rebellion - the greatest threat to President Joseph Kabila in a decade.
However, over 400,000 civilians are currently displaced by violence in Katanga, according the U.N. refugee agency.
Katanga has a history of secessionist movements dating back to a failed attempt to break away from newly independent Congo in the early 1960s.
Feelings that Katangans should benefit more from the province's vast mineral wealth continue to strain relations with the central government in distant Kinshasa.
(Reporting by Peter Jones; Editing by Joe Bavier and Mark Heinrich)