Three South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops were wounded yesterday morning (30 April) during an attack by the APCLS (Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo), a regionally-powerful rebel group in the eastern DRC, on the MONUSCO and FARDC positions in the town of Nyabiondo. A further six FARDC soldiers were killed and three wounded during the fighting.

According to Colonel Félix Basse, military spokesperson for MONUSCO, the APCLS attack began at 5:45 am and was directed primarily at the FARDC’s 810th Regiment located alongside the MONUSCO Force Intervention Brigade’s Company Operating Base in the town. Working together, the FARDC and MONUSCO soldiers repulsed the attack and had regained all positions in the town by 8am. The three SANDF soldiers were evacuated to the MONUSCO Level III hospital in Goma where they are in a stable condition.

During the fighting, the company of SANDF infantry at the MONUSCO base also took in over 1 500 civilians who had come under fire from the APCLS, protecting them inside the base until the rebel group’s attack had been thwarted.

During the fighting, the company of SANDF infantry at the MONUSCO base also took in over 1 500 civilians who had come under fire from the APCLS

Colonel Basse said: “We praise the determination and performance of the MONUSCO peacekeepers and the close and fruitful co-operation between them and the FARDC troops, as well as the courage of the population. It was all three working together that helped to repel the APCLS attack so successfully. MONUSCO and the FARDC control the area and are determined to enforce peace and stability and ensure a better and safer life for the Congolese population.”

The SANDF also praised the performance of its soldiers, saying in a statement issued this morning that: “The SANDF soldiers … stood their ground and defended their position with great courage and determination.”

Our sources in the region have told us that the SANDF company commander in Nyabiondo performed excellently, by responding quickly to an early warning he received from sympathetic members of the local population about the attack. Subsequently, SANDF soldiers maintained a vigil throughout the night and – along with the FARDC forces – were well-prepared and alert when the attack came.

Sources have claimed that this cooperation is the result of a high level of trust that the local population in the area has in the South African troops deployed in Nyabiondo, who they credit with helping to bring about a state of peace they have not seen in years and for removing the dominance of the APCLS over local communities. According to the reports received by African Defence Review, the SANDF troops have so far been well-received in the areas in which they have been deployed.

Yesterday’s APCLS attack is the second bold attack on FARDC and MONUSCO forces that the group has launched since it was forced out of its strongholds in Nyabiondo, Lukweti and Mt Sinai in early March by FARDC forces backed up by the Force Intervention Brigade. The South African contribution to those battles included mortar and 40mm grenade fire and highly-effective strafing runs from two Rooivalk attack helicopters.

The last counter-attack was against Mt Sinai on 6 April, which resulted in the group briefly retaking the hill before being forced off it once again by the FARDC, supported once again by the FIB and fire support from two Rooivalk attack helicopters.

While yesterday’s attack was unusually bold, it’s too early to tell whether it indicates strength or desperation from the APCLS. The group is highly-motivated, and based around a common goal of ‘protecting’ the Hunde population in the area, while being led by the charismatic ‘General’ Janvier Buingo Karairi. But without access to the money that they were able to gain earlier through taxing the populations of towns under their control and controlling a part of the coltan trade in the region, they group is likely to weaken significantly in the coming months. They will also come under increased attack by the FARDC, which until now has focused mostly on fighting the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in the north east of the country, and the UN’s Force Intervention Brigade.

“We’re saying to all armed groups that they must lay down their weapons and take the opportunity to disarm and join the country on a journey towards peace.” – Col. Basse

To put the recent developments in sharper context, as recently as four months ago the APCLS’s soldiers and police officers patrolled Nyabiondo, Lukweti and other towns openly and with impunity, often alongside FARDC soldiers who were too outnumbered and outgunned to offer any real resistance. Ignoring Hunde traditional leaders, the group established itself as the de facto authority in the places under its control and had become a powerful group in the region, often demanding the allegiance of other rebel groups in the area. The group’s forced removal from its strongholds was therefore a significant step towards stability, and an important display of the value that the Force Intervention Brigade has added to the Congolese government’s fight against the eastern DRC’s numerous rebel groups.

Disarming the APCLS will remain a difficult task going forward, however, as the group has shown no interest in being a part of the voluntary disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programmes being run by the DRC government and MONUSCO. Its structure as a classic insurgent group will likely mean the adoption of longer-running counter-insurgency tactics on the part of the FARDC and MONUSCO. This will mean the securing of the local population under MONUSCO’s ‘Islands of Stability’ approach – the gradual increase of the DRC government’s authority over the area, the reestablishment of local government structures including traditional leadership, and greater economic growth, amongst other key objectives.

Until then, it is likely that there will be further skirmishes between the APCLS and FARDC/MONUSCO forces.

Colonel Basse, in his closing thoughts on the attack, said: “We’re saying to all armed groups that they must lay down their weapons and take the opportunity to disarm and join the country on a journey towards peace. There’s no future for armed groups in the DRC, those who refuse to disarm and demobilise will find the full might of MONUSCO and the FARDC used against them. We will not rest until we have achieved peace for the Congolese people.”