For more than twenty years, the Beni region of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has been engulfed in conflict between rival rebel groups. Over the years, one group has become more feared than the rest: the Allied Democratic Forces. Frequently referred to as the ADF, they are accused of the massacre of several thousand civilians.
“We were here when the attack took place. That massacre of 22 people made all the locals flee. When we found them dead, their bodies hacked with machetes, we decided to flee.” said Meleksedek Kule Mvunga, a farmer who survived the attack in Mwenda.
The rise in bloody attacks in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has coincided with ADF”s affiliation to the so-called Islamic State (IS). It has become the latest armed group in a jihad that extends from the Sahel to Somalia and from Nigeria to Mozambique.
According to Lieutenant Antony Mwalushayi, spokesperson for the Congolese army’s Operation Sokola, an operation against the ADF in Beni; “People have bad memories when it comes to Mwenda because some people lost several family members. The army had to intervene to get the enemy to leave the area, because they were here for at least three days.”
On May 6, President Felix Tshisekedi decreed a “state of siege” in North Kivu and Ituri, vowing to stamp out the armed groups, the ADF in particular, which he described as having an “Islamist leaning.
The soldiers in this city have limited resources, notwithstanding, they never let their guard down.
Fabrice Mutengana, Company Commander of the Virunga National Park Guard says they are ready for any eventuality.
“We are ready for all eventualities because we can be attacked at any moment. As you can see our setup is defensive, so we are able to defend ourselves very quickly if something happens to us. The whole time we are here, we are ready for the possibility of an attack. We can never be sure that the enemy is finished, that they are no longer on the ground.”
The DRC’s Catholic Church says the ADF has massacred around 6,000 civilians since 2013, a toll that has risen sharply since 2019, when the militia appears to have become more radicalised.
As they attack, the ADF men loot everything in their path: telephone kiosks, stores of soap, rice, corn, also called maize, and medicines.
Like other armed groups, they are interested in the region’s resources, but go for timber and cocoa more than minerals.