It is now a little over two weeks since the Congolese army, FARDC, launched their offensive against the Ugandan rebel group ADF – Allied Democratic Forces. Information has been hard to obtain, in part because the army are keeping the lid on it and also because communications in the Grand North (and particularly Beni and Rwenzori) are notoriously flimsy.
The first question is why did FARDC launch the offensive so soon when it seems the Force Intervention Brigade and MONUSCO were still making preparations and, according to information I received from UN sources, not planning on going ahead until later in the year?
MONUSCO had been preparing intelligence and running awareness workshops for civil society groups and humantiarian agencies when FARDC made it clear that they were ready to roll.
The logistics of delivering heavy weapons and kit from Goma to Beni were extremely difficult and MONUSCO were acutely aware that the operation will require a lot more than weapons if it is going to succeed in the long run. Hence the contradictory messages from different parts of the UN.
The FARDC offensive forced their hand and now (since the end of January) MONUSCO and the Tanzanian section of the FIB are supporting FARDC with fuel and food but are not directly involved in the fighting.
My sources say the early launch of the offensive was partly political – to be seen to be ‘doing something’ in a region where Kabila has strong opposition – and partly pragmatic in order to remove the concentration of post-M23 soldiers from Goma.
It is also difficult to explain the long term and extreme decline in security to those who have never been there and who are accustomed to Goma or the M23 situation. Even local FARDC commanders told me that: “Kinshasa just doesn’t get it”.
video TOUS CONTRE LES ADF by Magloire Paluku
The FARDC offensive, named operation Sokola, began on January 16th with the first attacks on the Mbau / Kamango axis and has now progressed 10km along from Mbau to the Semliki bridge.
For the first time in 2 years the route to Semliki is no longer ADF territory. Along the way the army claimed to have killed 35 rebels plus one commander who they say was in possession of a Motorola radio, and his four body guards. A few hostages have been freed.
The army also say they have control of Mwalika which was used by the rebels for training and supplies, there have been bombing offensives on Nadui village and unconfirmed reports that FARDC are now in control of Totolito.
However, local sources tell me that one reason why there has been a lack of information is because the ADF are mostly avoiding combat and dispersing in different directions.
There have also been reports of known combatants being recognised on the streets in Beni town. This is exactly what I predicted would happen if you take into consideration that the ADF are guerrilla fighters with 20 years of knowledge and practice in the region.
Also, whether by coercion or collaboration, the ADF have local contacts. It seems that when the army arrives in the rebel camps and villages, they are empty.
It is a terrain that is often either dense forest or steep mountains and if the rebels go deep into the Rwenzoris or the Ituri forest then heavy army kit will not be useable.
There has also been problems within FARDC in terms of coordination of the different battallions and in the ability to have an overall view of the situation on the ground.
However, according to the latest reports from MONUSCO approximately 80 rebels have been killed in the various offensives and more have been ‘captured’.
Disarming the Congolese ADF
At the beginning of December, the Administrator of Beni Territory, Amisi Kalondo, confirmed that the ADF had been moving their dependents towards Province Oriental.
In a MONUSCO update it was reported that they are located in Kyanama and Zunguluka, located respectively 34 and 9 miles south and south-west of Tshabi and Bukiringi. They are also reportedly in the forest at Mambasa which is where Mayi-Mayi Morgan are also located.
Local sources were reporting that some of the Congolese section of the ADF rebels have separated from the Ugandans and a small group, possibly with families, are in Boga awaiting the go-ahead from the FARDC commander in Ituri, Colonel Fall Sikabwe, to begin the process of disarmament and demobilisation.
ADF have previously offered the Congolese combatants the opportunity to leave so if this is confirmed it shouldn’t be seen as any kind of factionalism. However, nothing has been confirmed and purely in terms of logistics, with the situation so fluid, it seems unlikely that they could separate that easily. I am awaiting further information from Ituri.
As the bombing and artillery attacks continue it is worth remembering that among the rebels are a high number of hostages and also children. Unfortunately no-one, including MONUSCO knows where any of the hostages are being held.
In Oicha and along the Semliki track from Mbau, local residents are delighted that for the first time in nearly two years they can move freely again but there have been major displacements of people along the Komanda – Luna axis and around Bwanasura there are at around 4,000 and this is likely to increase.
In a dreadful development, a linguist and MONUSCO disarmament worker, Hamza Katsambya, who was working on DDRRR – which is the part of the disarmament and demobilisation programme that deals with foreign armed groups and repatriation, was shot at close range as he left his house in Beni, in what appears to be a targeted killing.
He was specifically working on the ADF disarmament attempts and the fact that he could be shot at close range, in the town on his way to work is an indication of how the ADF both as an armed group and an idea is an ’embedded’ and complex issue within the community.
The big question now is who did this – who has an interest in attempting to prevent the ADF from laying down their arms? The ADF have a track-record of harsh reprisal against presumed ‘collaborators’ but so do others in the town including the security services. As usual in Beni rumour is rife and we may never know what exactly happened or who was responsible.
Updated 05/02/2014 to include latest reported rebel casualty figures and the murder of Mr Hamza as he is known locally.