Warning: graphic images below
Since January, the National Army of Congo (FARDC) has launched an offensive against the Allied Defense Forces (ADF/NALU) rebel group. The ADF has been hiding out in the northeast Congo forest for years. An illusive rebel group, the ADF is comprised of strict Islamists who one day hope to claim control of Uganda, according to a former ADF rebel.
Little is known about the ADF. The main leader, Jamil Mukulu, is said to be 68 years old and originally from Uganda. The group is not fighting for terrain or mineral wealth — which makes its apparent growth and strength even more ominous.
The forest makes for a dangerous and difficult terrain, and there is no official front line in the fighting between the ADF and FARDC. Soldiers are often ambushed, and many have been killed. One Colonel said that the fight between the ADF and the FARDC is far deadlier then those between any of the other rebel groups.
The ADF is also killing civilians with machetes, and reports have emerged that over 600 women have been kidnapped and taken to a encampments in the forest. One 16-year-old girl who escaped on October 4 told me that she had been held hostage for a year, during which time she was forced to convert to Islam and marry a rebel. She said there were many more girls — over 600 — and many more children being held. They keep girls as young as 8 years old, she said.
Another girl that recently escaped was held in the forest for two years and was repeatedly raped — she is 12 years old.
Other escaped women told VICE News that they were kept in a hole in the ground and only taken out to be used for sex.
In the Oicha region, many priests and doctors are kidnapped. If they resist covering to Islam, they are beheaded. Two men were killed by machetes strikes to the head and neck in the village of Mokoko on the night of October 3, and two men were kidnapped and forced to carry stolen goats and chickens pillaged from the village.
Mokoko had hoped that the fourth victim of this attack, Jean Pierre, a 35-year-old farmer and father of 5, was also kidnapped by the rebel group. Sadly his body was found in the dense scrub beside his mud home. He had received at least five heavy machete strikes to the head and face.
Captured ADF rebels told me of their innocence, and that they had been led into the forest on false pretenses. One captured rebel told me he had fought for five years in the forest, since he was 14. He said the ADF believe that women and children are easier to manipulate then men.
All photos by __Dearbhla Glynn