An offensive begun by the Democratic Republic of Congo’s army against rebels in the country’s east last month may force almost 370,000 people to flee their homes, the United Nations said.
Congolese troops launched the campaign against the Allied Democratic Forces, or ADF, and other armed groups active in North Kivu province, near the Ugandan border, on Jan. 13. An estimated 196,300 people are expected to flee in the territory of Beni, and a further 173,200 in Lubero as a result, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Thursday in a report.
Those fleeing would be in addition to the more than 532,000 who were displaced in the two territories during fighting in 2016 and 2017. Army spokesman General Leon-Richard Kasonga didn’t answer two phone calls seeking comment on the report.
Mineral-rich eastern Congo has been blighted by violence perpetrated by armed groups for decades, but in recent years many of these militias have fragmented.
There are about 120 armed groups in North and South Kivu provinces alone, up from 70 two years ago, according to the Kivu Security Tracker, a joint project of the Congo Research Group and Human Rights Watch.
More than 1,000 civilians in Beni territory have been killed in massacres since October 2014, according to the UN report. Congo’s government and the UN mission in the country have attributed most of the attacks to the ADF, a Ugandan Islamist group which has been active in Congo for more than two decades.
UN experts and the Congo Research Group say the situation is more complex and other militias, as well as senior Congolese army officers, have been involved in planning and carrying out the mass killings.
About 5 million Congolese are currently uprooted from the homes mainly due to conflict in the east and center of the country, including about 675,000 living as refugees in Congo’s neighbors, according to the UN.
Nearly a million people fled violence in the first half of 2017, outpacing conflict zones including Syria and Yemen, the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre said in December.