KINSHASA (Reuters) - United Nations experts said on Wednesday they had been unable to find evidence of direct support by Islamic State for an Islamist militia in eastern Congo, which was blacklisted in March by Washington as a terrorist group.
Experts on Central Africa have been debating whether the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), blamed for increasing violence over the past two years in eastern Congo, has genuine links with the Islamic State group based in the Middle East, sometimes known as ISIS or ISIL.
The ADF has publicly aligned itself with Islamic State, which in turn has claimed responsibility for some of its attacks. The United States referred to the ADF as "ISIS-DRC" when it added it to its terrorism blacklist.
In its latest report, the U.N. Group of Experts on the Congo said the ADF and Islamic State both benefited from making public statements that link them with each other. Such statements were "complementing and amplifying ADF local propaganda, and suggesting increased global reach for ISIL," the report said.
But it added: "The Group did not however find conclusive evidence of ISIL command and control over ADF operations, nor of ISIL direct support to ADF, either financial, human or material."
It found the ADF was getting better at making bombs using expertise from fighters recruited from East Africa, but that these bombs were used for "tactical, offensive, defensive and harassment purposes rather than as a terrorist tool".
The ADF has committed a spate of brutal reprisal attacks on civilians since the army began operations against it in late 2019. The group killed around 850 people last year in Congo’s restive east, according to U.N. figures, and violence has persisted this year with almost weekly attacks.
The militia has strengthened its reach through recruitment, superior command over terrain and planting bombs that outstripped the capabilities of the Congolese army, the experts said.
They advised the Congolese government to improve the army's intelligence and technical capabilities, while increasing efforts to negotiate with the group to disengage and disarm.
(Reporting by Hereward Holland; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Peter Graff)