Seventeen members of an insurgent group in the central DR Congo region of Kasai were killed Wednesday and others captured in an army ambush, police said.
Local police captain Desire Bidwaya said Thursday the prisoners were being held at army headquarters pending their transfer to Kananga, the provincial capital.
“The army recovered several combat weapons and 12-gauge shotguns,” he added.
The sprawling region exploded into violence in August 2016 after a tribal chieftain known as the Kamwina Nsapu, who rebelled against President Joseph Kabila, was killed by security forces.
Local traditional leader Tshibangu Mwela said about 60 militiamen had gathered in the forest of Minshanga with their leader, Kawai Dewayo, when “the army caught them unawares and opened fire. We picked up 17 bodies today”.
* Sign up to News24’s top Africa news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO THE HELLO AFRICA NEWSLETTER
The whereabouts of Dewayo and his wife are unknown, although their three-year-old son was found, he said.
He paid tribute to the army operation, saying it had “freed people from the militiamen’s harassment.” They had beheaded several people in the area, he said.
The security forces in Kasai are fighting an amorphous group of militias whose members often melt into the local population, according to local authorities.
In September, a Kasai rebel chief named Ndaye Kalonga Nsabanga surrendered to the authorities along with hundreds of youth fighters.
The conflict in Kasai is running in parallel with unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s east, casting a shadow over the country’s ability to stage presidential elections next month.
Since 2016, around 3,000 people in Kasai have died — including two United Nations experts sent to investigate the conflict — and more than a million people have been displaced, according to the UN.