BENI, DRC —
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s army says it has captured a key base of the Ugandan Islamist ADF rebels in the eastern DRC, and killed an ADF chief of staff.
The attack on thе base was a continuation of Operation Sokola, an offensive against the ADF launched by the Congolese army in Beni territory in January 2014. Sokola means "clean-up" in the Congolese language, Lingala.
Most of the ADF’s main camps were overrun in the first few months of the operation and about 60 prisoners were taken; but United Nations experts concluded at the end of last year that the ADF had been weakened, not wiped out, and had lost few of its commanders.
Since October, more than 300 civilians have been murdered in Beni territory in a series of massacres that have been widely blamed on the ADF and its allies.
The DRC army, however, has now struck at the ADF’s inner core, according to army spokesman Major Victor Masandi.
He told VOA that on the night of April 24 and 25, the Congolese army killed Kasadha Kalume, a Ugandan national who was the number three person in the ranks of the jihadi Islamist ADF.
DRC special forces reached the ADF camp at Baruku between the Bango and Semliki rivers on April 22 and captured it after heavy fighting, according to the army.
Masandi said Kasadha’s body was identified by a captured bodyguard to Seku Baluku, the number two person in the ADF. He adds that Baluku and some of his lieutenants and dependents managed to escape from the camp during the fighting.
The army found four common graves near the camp containing bodies of hostages, ADF casualties and dependents who were unable to flee, said Masadi.
Local civil society officials say the ADF had kidnapped nearly a thousand people in Beni territory since 2010.
Common graves were found at several other ADF positions captured in the earlier phases of Operation Sokola.
Various experts agree that by the middle of last year, the ADF had split into a number of small groups and had only a few hundred combatants.
Masandi said the movement had reorganized into an inner core, led by the ADF’s founder, Jamil Mukulu, and seconded by Seku Baluku, with a coordinating headquarters headed by Kasadha. He said there were eight satellite groups.
Masandi said the camp at Baruku consisted of 104 houses, including the headquarters, and was located inside the Virunga National Park in the foothills of the Ruwenzori mountains.
He added that the Congolese army is more determined than ever to finish off the ADF.
The U.N. mission in Congo, MONUSCO, has been supporting Operation Sokola, with logistics, intelligence and the intervention brigade comprised of Malawian, Tanzanian and South African troops.
There have been rumors and press reports in recent days that ADF founder Jamil Mukulu has been arrested in Tanzania, but official sources in Uganda and the Congo have not confirmed these reports.