A major raid by a previously unknown armed group on the eastern DR Congo city of Bukavu early Wednesday left six rebels and three security force members dead, authorities said, with dozens of the mysterious fighters arrested.
Numerous armed groups have been active in South Kivu province for the past quarter of a century, but the provincial capital Bukavu has not seen such an attack in years.
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s armed forces and police “killed six assailants, wounded four others, took 36 captives and recovered 14 weapons”, South Kivu Governor Theo Ngwabidje Kasi told reporters.
“We also sadly lost three members of our security forces,” he said, two police officers and a soldier.
Ngwabidje said that Bukavu, a city of more than one million people, had been attacked from 1 am by a group targeting several police stations.
“The situation is under control,” he said, adding that investigations were underway to identify the attackers.
The region’s military commander, Bob Kilubi Ngoy, said the assailants were from a previously unknown group called the CPCA-A64, for Coalition of Congolese Patriots for the Application of Article 64.
Article 64 of DR Congo’s constitution calls on citizens to resist any seizure of power by force.
“They were shouting and singing that they wanted to liberate the country” when they entered the city, Kilubi said.
– ‘Desperate to free fellow members‘ –
The group were seeking to free members who had been arrested by police several days earlier, he said.
The group attacked a military base in a bid to steal ammunition but were pushed back, and then tried to head to the city centre but were also repelled, he added.
“They were desperate to free fellow members.”
“It was dark and we preferred to contain them to prevent too much damage,” he said, adding that the army launched a “pincer operation” against the assailants at daybreak.
Light and heavy weapons fire continued until the early morning, prompting residents to shelter at home.
The authorities showed off 30 men whom they described as arrested rebels, as well as the 14 seized weapons.
Most of the captives were young, barefoot and wearing civilian clothes.
In the capital Kinshasa, the UN peacekeeping force in DR Congo said it was in “close contact” with the authorities in South Kivu.
“Long-range patrols have been initiated on the three main roads on the outskirts of the city, towards Walungu, Kavumu and Nyangezi,” MONUSCO spokesman Mathias Gillmann said.
Most of Bukavu’s residents stayed home during the morning after the attack but gradually resumed normal activities throughout the day, as the army carried out the reinforced vehicle and identity checks — particularly at the entrance to the city.
More than 120 armed groups roam the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, many of them a legacy of regional wars that flared a quarter-century ago.
South Kivu, which lies on the border with Rwanda and Burundi, has been badly hit by their attacks.
Two other troubled provinces, North Kivu and Ituri, were placed under a “stage of siege” in early May — a decision that placed senior civilian posts under the control of the security forces in a bid to toughen action against armed groups.