December 1, 2015 / 5:08 PM / 4 years ago

U.N. helicopters launch strikes against Congo rebels after deadly raid

KINSHASA (Reuters) - U.N. helicopters launched strikes against Ugandan rebels near the northeastern border of Democratic Republic of Congo in response to attacks this weekend that killed dozens of people, the force’s top general said Tuesday.

Seven civilians were hacked to death in a hospital and more than 20 other people were killed in clashes on Sunday when Islamist fighters from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF)attacked military bases around the town of Eringeti.

Helicopter gunships fired missiles and rockets at ADF positions several miles southeast of Eringeti from about 8 a.m. (0100 ET), Jean Baillaud, interim force commander for the U.N. mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, told Reuters.

Baillaud said MONUSCO troops had tracked and located the ADF targets and believed the rebels had suffered losses in the attack but declined to provide further details.

U.N. forces were in “total cooperation” with the Congolese army and additional military action was planned, he said.

A spokesman for the Congolese forces in the area said that the army had played no role in Tuesday’s strikes.

Cooperation between the two forces against the ADF, which has operated in the area since the 1990s, has been sporadic this year amid tensions between MONUSCO and the Congolese government.

Both blame the ADF for a run of massacres since October 2014 that have killed more than 500 civilians, though analysts say other armed groups or criminal gangs are probably also involved.

Intelligence gaps, poor coordination and insufficient resources have rendered the army and MONOSCO ineffective against the ADF, which is estimated to have only a few hundred fighters.

Eastern Congo, which was ravaged by a 1998-2003 regional war that killed millions, remains plagued by dozens of armed groups that prey on the local population and exploit mineral reserves.

Separately, in the southeastern mining hub of Lubumbashi, police fired tear gas to prevent supporters of the TP Mazembe soccer club from reaching the stadium to hear a planned address by its owner, Moise Katumbi, the club’s website said Tuesday.

A powerful former provincial governor and likely presidential candidate next year, Katumbi resigned from President Joseph Kabila’s ruling coalition in September.

He says his former allies are trying to violate the constitution to keep Kabila in power beyond the end of his mandate in 2016.

Katumbi told Reuters by phone that the police had used live fire and that he had been unable to reach the stadium to deliver his speech, which was not intended to be about politics.

Local authorities could not be reached for comment.

Editing by Makini Brice and Louise Ireland

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