BENI, DRC - The United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) has called for more cooperation with the Congolese army, after two peacekeepers were killed and 13 wounded in an ambush in Beni territory near the Ugandan border. The mission says the Ugandan Islamist ADF rebels are suspected of carrying out the attack, and has warned other groups against collaborating with terrorism.
The call follows two attacks on the mission in Beni territory this week.
On Monday, a U.N. mission helicopter with the force commander on board came under fire, its fuel tank was hit and it had to make an emergency landing.
The next day, a MONUSCO patrol of Tanzanian troops was ambushed on the road north from Beni. Two peacekeepers were killed and 13 wounded during the attack. Two civilians were also killed.
According to the U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the patrol was not accompanied by Congolese soldiers. It also has blamed the shooting down of its helicopter on ‘unidentified assailants’ and the ambush on ‘suspected’ ADF fighters.
Speaking to reporters at the ambush site Wednesday, MONUSCO force commander General Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz referred to the enemy several times as bandits.
"This situation cannot continue, he says, with bandits killing soldiers of the Congolese army and MONUSCO blue helmets, and civilians, including many women and children," he said.
The governor of North Kivu province, Julien Paluku, also visited the scene of the ambush and paid tribute to the peacekeepers who lost their lives. He expressed doubts about the attackers’ identity.
"It is too soon to blame one faction or another," he said. But he reminded reporters he recently denounced an incursion of Rwandan troops in North Kivu and that local civil society had also denounced an infiltration of unidentified forces in Beni territory. The recent attacks with heavy weapons tend to confirm those reports, he suggests.
Rwanda has denied that its troops made an incursion.
The Congolese army and MONUSCO also said this week that on Sunday, more than 100 heavily armed ADF attacked an army position at Kokola, near the site of the subsequent ambush, killing four Congolese troops for the loss of 16 on their own side. MONUSCO says the attackers were wearing new uniforms similar to those worn by the Congolese army.
For months, there have been rumors here the ADF have collaborators, including within the security services, according to a U.N. Radio Okapi report. A spokesman for Beni’s civil society group, Teddy Kataliko, commented on the rumors.
"There is no shortage of accomplices," he said, adding the ADF has developed a strong spy network. He called for the government to dismantle that network.
A civilian who asked that his identity be withheld told VOA that many local people believe the latest attacks, attributed to the ADF rebels, have been carried out by another force of infiltrators from Uganda.
"There are people who say the assailants were ADF," he said, "But to tell the truth, there are so many groups here and in the past week we have learned that a Congolese army officer who defected and fled to Uganda has re-entered the territory with a group of fighters."
Reacting to the attacks of the past few days, the head of MONUSCO, Martin Kobler, said, “We definitely need to resume cooperation between the FARDC (Congolese army) and the MONUSCO military force to secure the territory of Beni.” There have been some problems in that cooperation, he added, and it really needs to be fully re-established.
A spokesman for the Congolese army in Beni territory, Major Victor Masandi, told VOA the army intervened to rescue Tanzanian blue helmets from the ambush on Tuesday. He added that there is a single enemy in the territory, the jihadist terrorist ADF, and that the army does not confirm reports of an armed infiltration from Uganda.