DR Congo's army said Monday it had killed 16 militiamen in a crackdown on armed groups in the troubled east of the vast country.
It began an offensive last Friday against a notorious militia called Codeco, in the gold-rich northeastern province of Ituri, under a wider regional campaign launched in October.
"Yesterday alone, we killed 16 militiamen and captured three others," General Amuli Chiviri, the army's provincial chief in Ituri, told AFP.
The operation targeted Codeco in two villages, Ngongo in Djugu and Lipri in Irumu territory, both located about 40 kilometres from the provincial capital Bunia, he said.
"We have just stepped up our offensive and will extend it to the villages of Rety and Nyangarayi" in Djugu, Chiviri said.
Codeco -- for Cooperative for the Development of the Congo -- is an armed political-religious sect drawn from the Lendu ethnic group.
The authorities have accused it of killing 160 civilians last June and causing more than 300,000 people in Djugu to flee their homes.
"The only objective being pursued by the army is to dislodge these assailants who are committing atrocities against the people in this region," Chiviri said, urging fighters to surrender.
Militia groups are rampant in Ituri, one of three eastern provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country the size of continental western Europe.
A conflict in Ituri between the Hema and Lendu groups between 1999 and 2003 caused tens of thousands of deaths, ending only with the dispatch of a European force called Artemis -- the first rapid-reaction military mission by the European Union outside Europe.
The main thrust of the army's operations is farther south in North Kivu province, where hundreds have been killed by an Islamist-rooted militia called the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).