Fighters from the CODECO militia grouping have made their way into Bunia, a major city in Democratic Republic of Congo’s northeast, authorities report, saying the invaders are demanding the release of comrades from a local prison.
Roughly 100 rebels, all armed, have entered the city, home to some 366,000 residents, early on Friday. The militiamen, said to be members of the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo (CODECO) group – marched along the city streets wearing white headbands, apparently to distinguish each other in combat.
Local authorities confirmed the news later in the day. “They are in front of the central prison and are demanding the release of their men,” provincial governor Jean Bamanisa told AFP. Separately, Bunia mayor Ferdinand Fimbo revealed to Reuters that the group had “deviated to the prison where they are now in front of the police and the army.”
Meanwhile, army spokesperson Jules Ngongo insisted the situation was under control. He said the “harmless” fighters are only asking the military to take care of them and seeking the release “of their fellow prisoners.”
Made up mostly of ethnic Lendu fighters, who predominantly reside in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), CODECO has resumed hostilities against rival ethnic groups in recent weeks.
In July, the DRC government imprisoned several of their commanders to convince the militia group to lay down arms. Some elements of CODECO agreed to a unilateral ceasefire in August, but other factions continued fighting.
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