Goma, DR Congo - UN and Congolese troops have launched an offensive in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo against a Rwandan rebel group linked to the 1994 genocide, the UN command said Wednesday.
The move comes a month after the UN peacekeeping mission's special intervention brigade helped the DRC military seal a historic victory against the M23 rebel group in the same region.
“MONUSCO's intervention brigade launched operations against the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) yesterday, Tuesday, in Kalembe, in the Masisi region,” the mission said on Twitter.
Force commander Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz told reporters that the operation was taking place some 90 kilometres (50 miles) northwest of the regional capital Goma.
“For two years now, the population in this area has been unable to move freely because of the FDLR's activities,” he said.
The MONUSCO commander said the DRC regular forces were leading the operation and the intervention brigade - which received an unprecedented offensive mandate from the world body - was deployed in support.
He said several helicopters were involved but did not specify whether fighting was under way Wednesday.
The UN secretary general's deputy special representative for DR Congo Abdallah Wafy hinted the joint force had not yet clashed with the Rwandan rebels.
“They must disarm or we will engage,” he said, speaking at the same press conference in Goma.
Kinshasa and the United Nations had already announced after defeating the M23 in early November that the FDLR would be the next target if it did not surrender.
“The ultimatum has run out,” Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende told AFP. “We will only stop when the last FDLR lay down their arms.”
The M23 rebels - a Congolese group - disbanded after Kigali apparently withdrew its support.
Rwanda's Tutsi-dominated regime had long accused Kinshasa of failing to eradicate - and sometimes of colluding with - the FDLR, which includes remnants of Hutu militia who carried out the 1994 genocide.
Around 800 000 people, mainly from the Tutsi minority, were massacred in the space of 100 days.
The FDLR was formed in 2000 and although its avowed aim is to overthrow the Rwandan government, in recent years its estimated 1 500 to 2 000 fighters have preyed mainly on Congolese civilians.
The MONUSCO had late last month set up a base in Pinga, in the Masisi area, after FDLR forces and fighters from another group called the Mai Mai Sheka abandoned the position.
“From there, we'll spread across the region” to go after other groups, Dos Santos Cruz said, referring to ADF-Nalu, a Ugandan Muslim rebel group.
There are dozens of armed groups, homegrown and foreign, operating in the eastern DRC, which includes some of Africa's most impenetrable regions.