By John Irish
DAKAR (Reuters) - Only a few of Rwanda's FDLR rebels operating in eastern Congo have laid down their arms before a January deadline, meaning that U.N. troops will launch operations against the group next month, the U.N.'s peacekeeping chief said on Monday.
Herve Ladsous said that the U.N.'s Democratic Republic of Congo's mission, MONUSCO, was also involved in an offensive to pick off the last remaining elements of Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) Islamist rebels, which also operate in Congo's lawless east.
The FDLR, which includes former soldiers and Hutu militiamen responsible for carrying out Rwanda's 1994 genocide, announced in April it would disarm. Some of its fighters began doing so in May.
In July, neighboring African states gave them until Jan. 2 to lay down their weapons, but so far only around 200 fighters have surrendered out of an estimated 1,500.
"At the start of January, we'll have to step up a gear to neutralize them in line with the U.N. Security Council mandate," Ladsous said on the sidelines of an African security forum in Dakar.
The FDLR and previous incarnations of the group, whose full name is the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, have operated in Congo's eastern borderlands since they fled Rwanda following the genocide. They are regularly accused of human rights abuses, including massacres of civilians.
Last year, bolstered by a special brigade with a mandate to carry out offensive operations, MONUSCO launched a military campaign against all remaining armed groups operating in the mineral-rich east after it helped to defeat the most powerful armed group, the M23 insurgency.
Ladsous said 19 Congolese battalions with MONUSCO backing and surveillance drones were now hunting down about 150 "hardcore" elements of the ADF, a Ugandan Islamist group founded in 1995 that operates along the border with Uganda.
ADF, which Ladsous said most probably had direct links with Somalia's Shebab, has been blamed for a flurry of night attacks in the past three months that have killed 250 people and forced some 90,000 from their homes.
"We launched an offensive this year against them ... it's been hard with hundreds of victims on both sides," Ladsous said.
"There remains 150 of the strongest elements who are extremely spread out, mobile and blood thirsty."
Congo's President Joseph Kabila said earlier on Monday that he thought the situation in his country had changed significantly meaning the presence of U.N. forces, which number about 17,000, could be reduced.
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Joe Bavier)