At least 10 dead as army, Ugandan rebels clash in DR Congo: local activist

Goma (DR Congo) (AFP) - At least 10 people were killed in clashes between the army and suspected Ugandan rebels in east DR Congo, a local activist said Monday, in an area that has suffered a string of massacres since 2014.

The rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces, a partly Islamist armed group of Ugandan origin, are accused of a litany of human rights abuses and of being involved with kidnappings and smuggling.

"Suspected ADF attacked Beni from the north overnight... Eight civilians were shot dead, a soldier was killed and a suspected ADF militant was also killed," the local civil society leader, Gilbert Kambale, told AFP.

"The armed forces of the DRC intercepted the ADF and in the exchanges of fire civilians and soldiers were killed," said the army's spokesman in the region Mak Hazukay by telephone.

"Workers from Beni town hall are currently transferring the bodies of the suspected ADF (member) and eight other bodies to a large vehicle," Rossy Mupenda, a motorcycle taxi driver who was assisting with the operation, told AFP.

The attack led residents of the area to flee to the centre of the town. Some angry locals stoned vehicles of the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, the largest of its kind in the world, spokesman Felix Prosper Basse said.

On Friday, US-based rights group Human Rights Watch criticised Kinshasa for failing to protect the people of the Beni region and called on authorities to develop "a new strategy to protect civilians" in the area.

In March, a report by the Congo Research Group at New York University claimed that soldiers from the regular army had also participated in some of the killings.

- Human rights violations -

Various rebel groups operate in the region around the town of Beni, an area plagued by violence fuelled by ethnic rivalry and disputes over the right to exploit local mining and forest resources.

The area has witnessed a series of mass killings that have claimed more than 700 lives since 2014.

The gruesome August slaying of 51 people in the town of Beni touched off mass street protests against the DR Congo government for failing to protect the population from the armed rebel groups that plague the region.

The violence in the east adds to existing tension in DR Congo, where fears are mounting that President Joseph Kabila plans to hold on to power after his second mandate expires in December.

A wave of deadly clashes pitting police against demonstrators hit the country in late September, as the opposition demanded Kabila's resignation.

The US Treasury subsequently placed two of Kabila's top allies on its sanctions blacklist, tying both to rising political violence and human rights violations.

The United States has warned of the threat of more violence in the vast mineral-rich nation of 70 million people.