GOMA, DRC —
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, joint operations by the Congolese army and the United Nations mission MONUSCO have weakened one of the most active rebel groups in the country. The mission chief said Wednesday that about a quarter of the combatants with the FRPI rebel group have been taken out of action in the past four weeks.
The FRPI is a rebel group fighting for control of natural resources in Congo's Ituri province. The group was recently involved in a series of brutal civilian massacres, and made itself a high-priority target for the Congolese army and the U.N. mission, MONUSCO.
The U.N. tried to persuade the FRPI to lay down its arms during talks at Aveba at the beginning of the month, but the negotiations broke down.
That was when the U.N. and the Congolese army stepped up their operations against the rebels, MONUSCO chief Martin Kobler told media Wednesday.
He said the fighting on June 3 started after the FRPI had left the negotiating table, and after they were offered the option of surrendering their weapons and coming under the U.N.’s protection.
U.N. sources told VOA privately that the army and MONUSCO had jointly planned an attack on the FRPI if they refused to surrender and had surrounded part of their forces.
Kobler Wednesday gave an official total for casualties.
He said the casualty total, which a MONUSCO spokesman handed to him, corresponds with what he saw – 35 killed, 52 wounded and 36 who surrendered.
It was not clear how many other FRPI fighters have been taken out of action since June 3 but it would appear that the 123 accounted for on that day represent the majority.
Between 20 and 30 percent of the FRPI have been neutralized in the past three weeks, Kobler said, adding that it demonstrates that in unity lies strength, and the Congolese army and MONUSCO are stronger when they act in close collaboration.
Sources told VOA that FRPI’s total strength was put at around 800 at the beginning of the month.
Kobler said MONUSCO has been very active in the latest operations, not only providing logistical support to the Congolese army but also gathering intelligence with its drones and attacking the rebels with helicopters every day.
MONUSCO’s ground troops in the area, a Bangladeshi contingent, have also been very proactive, he said, going well beyond their normal role of protecting civilians.
He said the fighting against the FRPI in Ituri district has been the most intense and successful operation against Congolese rebels since the defeat of the M23 in 2013.
But the MONUSCO chief stressed that military operations are only part of the solution in eastern DRC. Restoring the government’s authority and providing jobs for young people are also key to reducing insecurity, he said.