Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have responded to public concerns about the safety of the joint operations against terrorists with a pledge of transparency. They said, in fact, that they will elevate their cooperation to target all armed groups, not just the Allied Democratic Forces.
The Ugandan and Congolese ministers of defence, after a two-day field tour of Bunia, in Ituri eastern DRC say they will coordinate operations to ensure they are within the law.
The Ministers, Vincent Bamulangaki (Uganda) and Gilbert Kabanda Kurhenga (DRC) were accompanied by senior officers from both countries as well as parliamentarians from the Defence Committee of the National Assembly and MPs from North Kivu and Ituri.
They were asked how far the operations will go, how civilians will be protected and whether there will be guards against damaging residential areas.
The two ministers made it clear from the outset that their discussions were not only about operations against the ADF, but also about all the other armed groups, militias and terrorist organisations operating along the border between the two countries, particularly in North Kivu and Ituri.
Currently, the Democratic Republic of Congo has about 100 armed groups, including some community defence militias, but they are sometimes ruthless in committing bloody attacks against civilians.
“We came here because we met as brothers who have a common future. When the neighbour’s house is burning you have to rush to help,” said Mr Vincent Bamulangaki.
Uganda and the DRC last week announced joint ground and aerial attacks on supposed cells harbouring Ugandan-born rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), blamed on a series of attacks in both countries.
On Friday, the two sides said their armies are committed to strengthening bilateral cooperation and formalising all aspects of military cooperation within the framework of general defence agreements, and vowed to respect both local and international laws.
Although the two armies have assured of legal operations, they have not yet made a human toll of the operations.
Earlier, and accompanied by the lawmakers of Ituri and North Kivu, Gilbert Kabanda had organised a series of consultations with the local authorities. At the end of these consultations, the president of the customary chiefs of Ituri, Innocent Matukadala, on behalf of his peers, gave his “unwavering support to the joint DRC-Uganda military operation”.
He stated that the support of Ituri traditional chiefs to the security and defence forces is expressed in the denunciation of negative forces and collaboration with the FARDC, the Congolese army.