A previously unknown group has attacked Beni, a key town in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s troubled east.
Soldiers have long patrolled eastern DR Congo near Beni against ADF rebels Photo: reuters
In a climate of rising political tension in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a previously unknown group whose members have announced the country’s "liberation" has attacked a key town in the country’s troubled east.
Armed fighters moved into the district capital of Beni in North Kivu province Thursday morning and engaged in fierce fighting with heavy artillery with the army, according to officials and eyewitness accounts. One shell landed in the courtyard of a high school where end-of-year exams were underway; several students were injured.
"Beni under hail of bullets since 8:16 a.m.," a local journalist reported on Twitter. "Heavy weapons and automatic rifles, we hide at home". Another reported that the attackers had fired on the town hall and occupied a radio station. According to one resident told taz, the army pushed the attackers back from the city center with UN help, but fierce fighting continued, including near a base of Indian UN blue helmets. Pamphlets had previously appeared in Beni announcing an attack on June 25.
The surrounding countryside of Beni has long been a war zone, but the city itself has rarely been hit. In the surrounding countryside, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a rebel movement that once emerged in Uganda, committed massacres of civilians for years and remains the target of an army military operation that has been ongoing for several years, supported by UN blue helmets. Little has been heard from the ADF recently, but meanwhile local politicians accuse senior army officers of being in cahoots with the ADF and artificially prolonging the conflict to get a pretext for their demands for new weapons and more money. Self-defense militias have emerged among the local Nande people to fight the army as well as other ethnic groups.
Nande rebel leaders are said to have recently joined forces in the suburbs of Beni to coordinate their activities. Two weeks ago, unidentified assailants stormed Beni Central Prison and freed 930 detainees, including some 200 fighters from armed groups and ADF leadership members.
Strategy of state actors?
Last week, a "Revolutionary National Movement" (MNR) near Beni spoke out, calling for the "liberation" of Kabila and from "foreign occupation." Their alleged spokesman John Mangaiko said the MNR is a "revolutionary movement without bosses." On Thursday, MNR fighters claimed responsibility for the attack on Beni. They were responding to "provocations," he said.
Many Congolese observers believe incidents such as the attack on Beni are part of a strategy by state actors to foment insecurity in order to make long overdue free elections impossible.
The attack on Beni came hours after the U.N. Security Council on June 21 extended for another year existing sanctions against Congolese officials who undermine "peace, stability and security" in Congo and called on Congo to cooperate with independent U.N. investigations.