The Congolese army says it has killed 40 militiamen during a week of joint operations with U.N. peacekeepers against armed groups in the remote Ituri district. The army says the offensive will last until it has put down the militias that have terrorized civilians for years.

Thousands of militiamen in Congo's lawless Ituri district have heeded warnings of military action and, this year, laid down their weapons to join a U.N. disarmament process.

Thousands more, however, did not, and preferred to continue to fight against efforts by the government and a U.N. peacekeeping mission to restore peace and order.

The Congolese army says it killed 40 of these fighters this week during fighting to seize control of a vital border town that is used as a supply route from neighboring Uganda.

General Bob Ngoie, the commander of the Congolese forces, said the operations would continue over the coming days and, if necessary, longer, until the militias were completely dismantled.

While Congo's wider, five year war raged, more than 60,000 civilians were killed in the northeastern district of Ituri alone since 1999.

Most died in clashes between ethnic groups, and fighting between militias over mining and the control of taxation has continued despite a vast U.N. peacekeeping operation.

Long-criticized for not doing enough to bring an end to the conflict, the U.N. peacekeeping operation has deployed soldiers, armored personnel carriers and attack helicopters in joint operations with Congo's army against the militias.

Many analysts believe the pressure is paying off and the days of the militias that plagued civilians for years are numbered.

A U.N. spokesman agreed Friday, saying the militia was no longer representing a cause, but was disorganized and was fighting for their survival.