(Reuters) – The Congolese army has killed at least 10 rebel fighters and captured territory, weapons and men during its latest campaign to stamp out an insurgency in the east of the country, the government spokesman said on Sunday.
Seven rebel fighters have been killed in fighting near the town of Tongo in North Kivu province since Saturday and a government soldier was also killed there, spokesman Lambert Mende told Reuters.
Three rebels were killed earlier in South Kivu.
The push began last week in North and South Kivu against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda — a force at the heart of two decades of conflict in the region that borders Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, he said.
“They (the rebels) are being chased. They are abandoning the majority of their arms,” spokesman Lambert Mende told Reuters.
The rebel force of an estimated 1,400 fighters includes some former soldiers and militiamen responsible for Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
They have exploited the region’s gold, diamond and tin deposits and waged periodic war with the Kinshasa government and other armed groups since fleeing to Congo at the end of the genocide.
Millions died of conflict, hunger and disease during a war in Congo’s east between 1998 and 2003 and the region remains plagued by armed factions.
Efforts to contact the rebels were not successful. Analysts say their force knows eastern Congo well and will melt into the countryside rather than risk losses in battle.
After chasing the fighters from hills around the town of Kirumba on Friday in North Kivu’s Virunga National Park, the army units are battling rebels some 30 kilometers (20 miles)south near Tongo, Mende said.
More than 50 captured rebels were presented to the media in the North Kivu capital of Goma on Sunday. In all, 93 rebels have been captured in the two provinces, Mende said.
(Additional reporting by Kenny Katombe; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Crispian Balmer)