At least a dozen soldiers were killed in Democratic Republic of Congo’s volatile eastern borderlands.
The army has been battling Ugandan Islamist rebels, Congolese security and diplomatic sources said on Friday.
The armies of Congo and Uganda launched a military offensive last month against the Allied Democratic Forces rebels, who were suspected of being behind a Dec. 8 attack on a U.N. base that killed 15 Tanzanian peacekeepers.
This week, Reuters reported that militias in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo were uniting in opposition to President Joseph Kabila.
In 2017, a brutal conflict in Congo’s south-western Kasai region drew international attention and condemnation because of reports of atrocities by pro-government militias.
Less attention was paid to escalating violence by armed groups in eastern provinces bordering Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and Zambia.
“What we hear is that whilst initially some of these armed groups were in it for themselves – they would burn a village, and pillage, rape, burn and scorch the earth – it seems now that they have more of a political agenda,” said Jean-Philippe Chauzy, chief of mission for the International Organization for Migration in Congo.
“We now have it seems a coalition of various militia groups – it’s a myriad, a cluster of those illegal irregular armed groups, about 70 of them at the last count, probably even more – that seem to be coalescing on the political agenda, which is one of transition without President Kabila.”
Kabila has refused to step down, despite his mandate expiring in 2016, and has delayed an election until December 2018.
The eastern militias were hard to track, with constantly changing identities and areas of control.
Chauzy said they may have benefited from the Congolese army’s deployment to Kasai.
In December U.N. peacekeepers had to repel an offensive against the town of Uvira, less than 20 miles from the Burundian capital Bujumbura on Lake Tanganyika, and a similar attack could happen again, he said.