UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Seven U.N. peacekeepers were killed and 10 wounded in a military operation with Congolese forces against rebels in the northeast, which is facing a deadly Ebola outbreak, the United Nations said Thursday.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said one U.N. peacekeeper was still missing and several Congolese soldiers were also killed or wounded in Wednesday’s operation targeting Allied Democratic Forces rebels.
Dujarric said six peacekeepers who were killed were from Malawi and one was from Tanzania.
Congo’s volatile east is home to many armed groups vying for control of the mineral-rich region.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on all armed groups to stop “their destabilizing activities” and “disarm immediately,” Dujarric said.
He also urged Congolese authorities to apprehend and bring to justice the perpetrators of attacks against civilians, national security forces, and U.N. peacekeepers, the U.N. spokesman said.
The secretary-general also gave strong backing to peacekeepers from Malawi and Tanzania “who continue to operate in an exceptionally difficult environment to protect local populations against the attacks of the ADF and other armed groups,” Dujarric said.
The ADF originated in Uganda as a rebel force against the government and carried out deadly bombings in the 1990s. A military campaign forced them to relocate to eastern Congo.
Since October 2014, ADF rebels have killed more than 1,500 people in the Beni region, where Wednesday’s attack took place.
U.N. investigators have blamed the ADF for carrying out the deadliest single assault on the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo in almost 25 years. That attack last Dec. 7 at a base in Semuliki near Beni killed 15 Tanzanian peacekeepers, wounded 43 others, and left one peacekeeper missing.
In recent attacks, ADF rebels have also killed civilians and abducted children in the Beni region.
The rebel attacks have forced suspension of crucial efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak in some areas.
Dr. Peter Salama, the emergencies chief for the World Health Organization, predicted Tuesday that Congo’s Ebola outbreak, which has killed more than 200 people, will last at least another six months.
He said makeshift health facilities offering both traditional and modern treatment have become “major drivers” of the current, deadly transmission and are believed to be linked to more than half of the cases in Beni, the largest city affected by the current outbreak.
Salama said the current Ebola outbreak is “arguably the most difficult context that we’ve ever encountered,” pointing to activities of two armed rebel groups in the region.
– EDITH M. LEDERER I Associated Press