KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congolese soldiers backed by U.N. forces have launched a military operation against a rebel group in the country's northeast and have killed at least 34 militants, officials said Wednesday.
The offensive against the group known by its French acronym FRPI comes after a dispute between the U.N. mission and Congolese military over a similar effort to oust a longtime rebel group called the FDLR. That effort reached an impasse when Congo's army chose two generals linked to human rights violations to lead the mission.
The operation now under way is targeting the Front for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri, whose former leader Germain Katanga was convicted last year of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
U.N. forces are taking part in the offensive both on land and by air, according to Jean-Marie Joseph Goncalves, military spokesman for the U.N. mission.
"Joint operations have been launched on the ground with the U.N. rapid intervention force of the 1st battalion from Bangladesh, supported by U.N. attack helicopters, to neutralize the positions of the FRPI," he said.
Martin Kobler, head of the U.N. mission, said that MONUSCO brought in its helicopters and troops after the rebel group left the negotiating table.
"I call on the FRPI fighters once again to surrender and to enter the disarmament process so as to not risk death," he said.
The new operation marks the largest effort against Congo's myriad of rebel groups since the U.N. and Congolese military successfully defeated the prominent M23 rebel group in late 2013.
Efforts to then go after the FDLR rebel group stalled in February when the U.N. formally ended support for the Congo military offensive after two Congolese generals linked to human rights violations were picked to lead the operation.
The U.N. had previously said removal of the FDLR would be "a turning point" for security in the region, where a number of armed groups have wreaked havoc for years.