February 23, 2018 / 1:46 PM / 23 days ago

Charred bodies, wounded soldiers after Congo army victory

MAPUBO, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Discarded military fatigues, boots, trash, a charred corpse inside a smoldering hut: this is all that remains of a Ugandan rebel base in the wake of what the Congolese army says was an important victory.

Democratic Republic of Congo’s army launched its latest offensive last month against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist insurgency originally based in Uganda that has moved across the border into eastern Congo.

Congolese authorities accuse the ADF of carrying out a series of attacks around the town of Beni between 2014 and 2016 that killed more than 800 people, many of them hacked to death with machetes during the night. The rebels are also blamed for an attack on a United Nations base in December that killed 15 peacekeepers and five Congolese soldiers.

“We’re planning how to pursue them until the end,” said Colonel Willy Mboneza Babyondo, head of the unit that destroyed the base, as Congolese soldiers hauled their wounded comrades out of the dense forest atop improvised stretchers

“We cannot allow a foreign group to continue to kill, to massacre, our people,” he said.

A wounded Congolese soldier from the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) is carried by another soldier in the forest after the army took control of a ADF rebel camp, near the town of Kimbau, North Kivu Province, Democratic Republic of Congo, February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic SEARCH "TOMASEVIC KIMBAU" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

But the victory amid the lush, rugged mountains comes as Congo risks sliding back into the cycle of war that killed millions, most from hunger and disease, at the turn of the century.

The ADF is just one of many groups across the vast, mineral-rich nation that are responsible for a deadly spike in attacks.

Slideshow (17 Images)

More than 4.4 million people have been displaced by violence that has been aggravated by President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his mandate in 2016.

More than 532,000 people fled their homes in just two territories along the border with Uganda in 2016 and 2017. The United Nations has warned that the current offensive against the ADF is likely to displace nearly 370,000 more.

But Congolese officers say the operations are necessary and point to one particular disfigured body discovered among the scattered remnants of the ADF base as evidence of their progress. They say the man was Muhammad Kayira, one of the ADF’s senior operations commanders.

“I cannot rejoice because this fighter has fallen. I can simply say it is an important step,” said General Marcel Mbangu, one of the Congolese army’s top commanders in the east. “In the end, the final result we’re seeking is nothing more than peace and security.”

Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Tom Balmforth and Peter Graff

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