Armed groups in DRC
Thomas Lubanga, former leader of the UPC, talks to villagers near the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo town of Bunia in Ituri district in this June 2003 file photo. He was sentenced in July 2012 to 14 years in prison for using child soldiers.REUTERS/Antony Njuguna/Files

The battle for control in DRC is coming to a head as the country prepares for a presidential vote in late 2016.

Political stability has created a window of opportunity for positive change to arise, but significant obstacles to the nation's transition to stability and democracy still remain in the form of more than 50 different armed groups operating in DRC's eastern borderlands.

"While some have a few thousands of combatants (such as the FDLR) and highly sophisticated structures of command, including supply and training, others are 10 or 20 people rag-tag gangs whose composition can change on a weekly basis," according to political analyst Christoph Vogel.

In 2001, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo founded the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC) and was commander in chief of its armed wing, the FPLC (Forces Patriotiques pour la Liberation du Congo).

Active in North Kivu, the group was involved in human rights violations including ethnic killings, torture, sexual violence and mutilations - all qualifying as crimes against humanity and war crimes. It is alleged that 3,000 child soldiers were recruited into the ranks of the FPLC. The group is now estimated to number a few hundred fighters.

On 17 March 2006, Lubanga was the first person arrested under a warrant issued by the ICC. His trial began in 2009 and was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2012 for war crimes including recruiting child soldiers and forcing them to fight in a war.

Battle for control of the DRC

Check out our Flipboard magazine - Who's who in the battle for DRC by IBTimes UK

In this series on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, IBTimes UK takes a closer look at the eastern regions of South and North Kivu where civilians are still at the mercy of armed groups and the Congolese armed forces, who have all been accused of committing serious war crimes.

Read more about the armed groups in the DRC here.