Clashes between the army and rebels loyal to a renegade former general in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have killed 18 people, military sources said on Monday, December 3, in the latest violence before crucial elections to replace President Joseph Kabila this month.
Fighting killed 14 rebels and four soldiers in Fizi, a region of South Kivu, a mineral-rich province which is prone to ethnic tensions, a military spokesperson and other sources said.
Violence in the troubled eastern region is just one complication before December 23 elections in DR Congo, which has not seen a peaceful transfer of power since independence from colonial Belgium in 1960.
Under international pressure, Kabila has agreed to step aside, but critics worry he will try to engineer a win for his handpicked successor, former hardline interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.
Kabila’s second and final elected term finished nearly two years ago, but he has remained in office thanks to a caretaker clause in the constitution.
Eastern DR Congo clashes
The clashes pitted the military against rebels loyal to a former army general, William Amuri Yakutumba, whose militia is one of the armed groups operating in the region.
The militia is allied to rebels of the National Liberation Front based in neighbouring Burundi, according to several regional sources.
In September last year, the Yakutumba rebels attacked the town of Uvira on Lake Tanganyika near the Burundian capital Bujumbura, but U.N. and Congolese forces pushed them back.
In February, the military said they had wiped out the Yakutumba group with help from Burundi, where some of them had taken refuge.
Western powers are closely watching the presidential election in the vast mineral-wealthy nation, where the U.N. peacekeeping force Monusco, now with 16,000 troops on the ground, has been operating for two decades.
Kabila’s supporters and opponents traded accusations Monday, accusing each other of electoral violence.
Supporters said backers of his main opponent, UDPS leader Felix Tshisekedi, attacked a march over the weekend, injuring dozens of people.
Kabila’s FCC coalition said “young delinquents, drug addicts who are UDPS supporters” attacked a march for Ramazani Shadary on Saturday in Mbuji Mayi in East Kasai province.
“We have 35 seriously injured and with fractures,” an FCC statement said.
Local governor Alphonse Ngoyi Kasanji said Monday 15 wounded had been treated at a local hospital.
Kabila’s Chief of Staff Nehemie Wilanya accused another opposition candidate MP Martin Fayulu of “advocating violence against the electoral process” due to his concerns over the use of electronic voting machines in the upcoming polls.
Fayulu is backed by ex-warlord and vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba and former governor and businessman Moise Katumbi, both barred from running.
Fayulu has repeatedly called for the use of paper ballots to try to prevent fraud.
The electoral board has stood by its decision to use 106,000 touchscreen voting machines supplied by South Korea.
‘Dozens detained’ by police
Meanwhile, a source at Tshisekedi’s UDPS party said police had encircled its headquarters in Mbuji Mayi from Sunday night to Monday morning, and detained supporters over the weekend.
“Around 20 of our activists were arrested on Saturday and are still in police custody. One of our parliamentary candidates is still reported missing,” regional UDPS representative Denis Kalombo told AFP.
Vincent Ngoyi, a local official, said police had been deployed to UDPS headquarters in the region for “security reasons” because they were responsible for unrest on Saturday.
With reporting from AFP’s Bienvenu-Marie Bakumanya