At Least 12 Killed in Attack on DRC Gold Mine

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien is a published journalist and historicist with over six years of experience in freelance journalism and research. His primary expertise is in African conflict and politics, with additional specialization in Israeli/Palestinian and Armenia/Azerbaijan conflicts. Sébastien serves as the deputy desk chief for Africa.

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What Happened

An attack on a gold mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on February 14th left at least 12 people dead. The attack was carried out by the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo (CODECO), who also kidnapped 16 people in their attack. The attack took place in the DRC’s Ituri province.

DRC military commander Yves Kadjena said he was “disappointed” by the attack, since CODECO had recently signed a peace treaty with regional militias at the end of January, pledging to stop fighting and release hostages held by the group.

It is unclear if the whereabouts of the hostages taken are known.

What is CODECO..?

CODECO is one of over 120 armed groups that operate within the DRC’s North and South Kivu provinces, and the Ituri province.

In it’s origins, it was founded in the 1970’s as an agricultural cooperative of the Lendu people in Zaire (what is now the DRC). The group was formed to promote agriculture in Ituri, but also in order to act as a mouthpiece for the demands of the Lendu against the Hema people, as well as to speak against what they said was foreign exploitation of Congolese natural resources.

The Hema were favoured more than the Lendu under the Belgian colonial administration, a policy which was continued by Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. The Lendu and the Hema also face key differences in practices, with the Lendu being more agriculturalist, and the Hema being more pastoralist.

The outbreak of the 1999-2003 Ituri conflict saw the group transform from the agricultural collective to a loose association of Lendu militias. The conflict ended in 2003, which in turn ended violence between the Lendu groups and the Hema groups, and CODECO’s presence declined. Despite the decline, however, the group did not fully disarm, and several of the militias began stockpiling weapons.

In 2017 CODECO, under the leadership of Justin Ngudjolo, began attacks in the Djugu district. Attacks witnessed a sharp increase in 2019, which prompted the UN accused Lendu groups, not specifically naming CODECO, of carrying out massacres against Hema civilians. Within the same year, shortly after an attack attributed to CODECO, the newly elected President Felix Tshisekedi vowed to “eliminate” the group.

MONUSCO (the UN’s mission in the DRC) troops pictured amidst combat operations against CODECO in 2022 (Photo from MONUSCO).

Fighting escalated further in 2020, with the UN accusing CODECO directly of massacres “akin to crimes against humanity”. Though the attacks from CODECO coincided with an increase in attacks by Islamic militant groups, they were not coordinating with each other. A ceasefire was signed in August of 2020, which had broken by October.

Since resuming attacks in 2017, CODECO killed at least 1,800 people as of 2022, with many having also been killed in 2023 and now 2024.

CODECO oftentimes targets natural resource sites, such as gold mines. Hema groups also remain one of its primary targets. CODECO remains based in the Ituri province.