KINSHASA (Reuters) - Government troops have retaken the stronghold of a local uprising in western Congo that has prompted around 145,000 people to flee their homes, a spokesman said on Monday.
The little-understood conflict in Equateur province is not linked to the violence in the east of Democratic Republic of Congo and has escalated in recent weeks from its origin as a fight over fishing rights between local communities.
“Our forces arrived in Dongo yesterday (Sunday) afternoon,” said Information Minister Lambert Mende, naming the town that has been the stronghold of the local rebel fighters.
“Many of them (local fighters) were killed during clashes, and we are now in complete control of the town. Some of them were arrested, while others have disappeared into the bush where we are pursuing them,” he added, without giving details.
An official in the U.N. peacekeeping mission, which has sent hundreds of soldiers to the region, confirmed that Congolese troops were in Dongo.
“Thanks to a rapid deployment of peacekeepers to the area and the logistical assistance they gave, the government forces were able to advance quickly,” said the U.N. official.
The conflict started in October as a dispute over fishing rights between the Enyele and Monzaya communities. Since then, a number of shadowy groups have posted statements on the Internet saying they were launching a rebellion from Equateur against President Joseph Kabila’s government in Kinshasa.
Equateur was the home province of the late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. It also spawned a rebellion by Jean-Pierre Bemba, who fought against the Kinshasa government during the 1998-2003 war.
But, with Bemba in prison at the International Criminal Court and Congo at peace with its traditional foes Rwanda and Uganda, analysts played down the scale of the Dongo uprising.
"Given previous experience, no insurgency in the Congo can be successful outside of a very narrow area without significant outside support," Jason Stearns, an independent Congo analyst, wrote on his blog congosiasa.blogspot.com.
Half the displaced civilians have crossed the Oubangui river into neighbouring Congo Republic, but aid workers say that continued insecurity around Dongo has prevented them from reaching those still in the Democratic Republic.
The new violence coincides with a debate about how long the United Nations should retain peacekeeping operations in Congo, some observers arguing it should be preparing an exit strategy.