Beni – Democratic Republic of Congo’s army on Friday said a military operation including air and artillery strikes against the ADF rebel group earlier this week allowed 27 hostages to escape.
DRC and neighbouring Uganda are leading a joint operation against the Allied Democratic Forces rebel group in DRC’s border provinces of North Kivu and Ituri.
The Ugandan army late on Friday said the operation – dubbed “Shujja”, or courageous in Swahili – was targeting four camps of the ADF group.
The ADF has been blamed for massacres in eastern DRC and attacks in the Ugandan capital, and the Islamic State jihadist group claims it as an affiliate.
Ugandan armed forces launched air and artillery strikes from Ugandan territory against the ADF on Tuesday.
A DRC army spokesperson said on Friday that the operations had “allowed 27 citizens kidnapped by the ADF to escape”.
One of the hostages, Paluku Makombozi, told the army’s radio broadcaster FARDC-FM that he had escaped one early morning.
“At around 3 am, a drone passed overhead,” he said in Swahili, and the ADF told them to put out a fire that they had lit.
“At around 6 am, we heard the bombs,” he said, adding that he overheard a rebel say it was Uganda bombing them. “We dispersed and, thank God, we managed to find out way to the way to the (DRC) army camp.”
Makombozi said that he was working in a field in the neighbouring province of Ituri, when the “Muslim” rebels took him hostage. He did not say when this happened.
Tanzanian driver Selemani Hassan said he was on his way to the DRC town of Komanda when gunmen abducted him on November 5. He was then led into the scrubland, where he met other Tanzanians among the captives.
“They tried to convince us to convert to Islam,” he said of the ADF.
The day he was able to escape, “we saw drones and then the bombing started… They scattered, and I escaped too,” he said.
‘Avoid harm to civilians’
Josephine Mateso said she had been held at a camp for women for more than two months.
“The woman in charge would tell us she wished for the whole world to be Muslim,” she said. “They used us to work in the fields.”
The ADF was historically a Ugandan rebel coalition whose biggest group comprised Muslims opposed to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
The group established itself in eastern DRC in 1995, later becoming the deadliest of scores of outlawed forces in the troubled region.
DRC’s Catholic Church says the ADF has killed around 6,000 civilians since 2013 while a respected monitor, the Kivu Security Tracker, blames it for more than 1,200 deaths in the area alone since 2017.
A witness at the Beni border crossing between both countries on Friday said they saw a military convoy cross over, the latest since reinforcements started arriving after the air strikes on Tuesday.
Rights group Amnesty International on Friday called on all parties to ensure the protection of civilians.
“Military commanders in Uganda and DRC must take all required steps under international humanitarian law to protect and avoid harm to civilians during this operation,” said Amnesty International’s Sarah Jackson.
“Past foreign military interventions in the DRC, including by Uganda, have resulted in the targeting or harming of civilians.”
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