Eight United Nations peacekeepers and at least 12 Congolese soldiers were killed in a joint military operation against rebels in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is facing a deadly Ebola outbreak, the Security Council said Thursday.
Ten peacekeepers were injured and one was missing after Wednesday’s operation that targeted Allied Democratic Forces rebels, said the United Nations spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric.
The Security Council’s statement said seven of the peacekeepers who were killed were from Malawi and one was from Tanzania.
The joint forces were attacked while conducting operations to dislodge the rebel fighters from a stronghold in Kididiwe, near the regional capital of Beni, a United Nations official said. The mission succeeded and a number of rebels were captured, the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Congo’s volatile east is home to many armed groups vying for control of the mineral-rich region, and the Allied Democratic Forces are especially active in the Beni area.
The Security Council called on all armed groups to stop the violence immediately and lay down their arms. It also urged Congolese authorities to apprehend and bring to justice the perpetrators of attacks on civilians, national security forces and the peacekeepers.
The Security Council emphasized “that deliberate attacks targeting peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law.”
The Allied Democratic Forces group originated in Uganda as a rebel movement against that country’s government. A military campaign forced them to relocate to eastern Congo.
Since October 2014, the group’s fighters have killed more than 1,500 people in the Beni region. United Nations investigators blamed the Allied Democratic Forces for the deadliest single assault on the peacekeeping mission in Congo in almost 25 years, an attack last Dec. 7 at a base near Beni that killed 15 Tanzanian peacekeepers and wounded 43 others.
In recent attacks, the group has also killed civilians and abducted children in the Beni region.
Rebel attacks have forced suspension of 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 six more months.
The outbreak is “arguably the most difficult context that we’ve ever encountered,” Dr. Salama said, pointing to activities of the armed rebel groups in the region.