KINSHASA (Reuters) – Rwandan rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo killed around 10 soldiers in an ambush this week, an army source said on Wednesday, the insurgents’ deadliest attack since the start of a military campaign against them in February.
The military source, who asked not to be identified, said that two colonels were among those killed and several other soldiers were injured in the attack by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
The ambush took place on Monday in the Masisi region of north Kivu province, he said.
The FDLR, a Hutu force of some 1,400 fighters, includes soldiers and militiamen involved in neighbouring Rwanda’s genocide in 1994. It has embedded itself in the communities of eastern Congo, a region plagued by dozens of armed groups.
FDLR fighters have sought to exploit the region’s rich deposits of gold, diamonds and tin and waged periodic war with the Kinshasa government and other armed groups.
Many analysts say that defeating the FDLR is critical to breaking a catastrophic cycle of violence in eastern Congo.
However, a slow start to the military campaign has raised doubts about its ability to defeat the FDLR, which has fought alongside the army in the past against other Rwanda-backed rebels.
General Leon Mushale, the top Congolese army commander in eastern Congo, said only 13 FDLR fighters had been killed since the campaign began. He said this was because the army was taking care not to incur civilian casualties.
At least one Congolese soldier was killed in the first week of the campaign, but military authorities have not given an overall toll for their casualties.
FDLR fighters have fled deeper into the dense forests of eastern Congo rather than risk open combat. The army says it has captured dozens of towns held by the rebels and that hundreds of combatants have been captured or surrendered.
The operation is being carried out unilaterally by the Congolese army after a row over alleged human rights violations by two Congolese commanders led the U.N. peacekeeping force to withdraw its support.