Peacekeepers outgunned
Congo's ethnic war too much for troops; U.N. weighs more aid

Carter Dougherty, Chronicle Foreign Service
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Bunia, Congo -- Where Kalashnikov-toting teenage militiamen once swaggered through Bunia's streets in their plastic sandals and tattered T-shirts, heavily armed French troops now patrol in groups and respond quickly to any provocation.

Since they were dispatched here a month ago as an emergency force, hundreds of French troops have moved quickly to tamp down a spasm of ethnic warfare between Hema and Lendu militias who hacked and shot to death as many as 500 people in May, raped women and even resorted to cannibalism, according to Human Rights Watch.

The central market in Bunia, once a looter's paradise dotted with bloated, stinking corpses, is again a bustling place of business, but the town itself is not yet free from terror, and refugees from other towns in northeastern Congo's lawless Ituri province say outlying areas remain violent.

Even in Bunia, nighttime "disappearances" of civilians following visits by armed militiamen are still a regular occurrence, though the number has tapered off from a rate of about four per night a few weeks ago.

"The French control Bunia," said Amagi Uringi, "but the night belongs to the militia."

Uringi, 55, listened through a wall as gunmen rousted his cousin out of bed at 11 p.m. and stole money, a radio and several goats. Family members later found the cousin's body in a nearby ditch.

The gunmen accused Uringi's cousin of collaborating with the majority Lendu ethnic group, a sign that the attackers came from the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), the militia dominated by the minority Hema people that has slowly ceded control of Bunia to the French. The group denies knowledge of the attacks.

The French detachment in Bunia acknowledges the periodic reports of midnight attacks but says it cannot guarantee security on an individual basis.

"The force is unable to put a soldier behind every inhabitant of Bunia," said Col. Gerard Dubois, the French military spokesman.

Ituri's ethnic war is part of a much larger war in Congo that has killed up to 3.3 million people, mostly through disease and starvation, according to the International Rescue Committee, but Bunia stands out as the place where ethnic violence has reached a crescendo.

Repeated clashes between rival Lendu and Hema militias, initially sparked by land disputes, have left 50,000 dead in Ituri province, many of them civilians, since 1999. Both Hema and Lendu forces have been backed by Rwanda and Uganda in their bid to dominate the area, which is rich in gold, diamonds and uranium.

A particularly fierce round of killing in May under the noses of 700 Uruguayan U.N. peacekeepers, who were prevented by their rules of engagement from firing on the combatants, prompted U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to call for a multinational force.

France and other European nations responded with Operation Artemis, and about 1,500 troops have set up camp in Bunia, trying to secure the town so the more than 200,000 refugees who fled during the fighting can return.

Every day, mighty patrols of armored vehicles kick up dust all around the town. Two weeks ago, French troops began venturing outside Bunia and have managed to secure the town's perimeter.

The force has concentrated on trying to rid Bunia of militiamen with weapons. Late last month, a convoy of trucks rumbled out of Bunia carrying the last load of militiamen from the UPC, which controlled Bunia before the French arrived. But on Friday, 200 French troops clashed with 60 members of the Hema militia, and killed three of them after being fired upon.

Still, Dubois says, Bunia is slowly being pacified.

"Fifteen days ago, there was a weapon every 10 meters in Bunia," he said. "We're on the right track."

But the French have not attempted to address the constant clashes in the vast, lawless countryside around Bunia -- nor do they plan to. Their mandate includes only Bunia, though they have taken up positions at strategic intersections outside town in order to defend its perimeter.

As a result, reports trickle into Bunia, often days after the fact, that militiamen have stormed through villages and hacked people to death with machetes.

"Fighting is continuing outside the city," said Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch's Africa division.

Ten miles north of Bunia, Lendu fighters attacked the village of Katoto, according to people who survived the violence and fled to Bunia.

The United Nations has placed its faith in a political process to restore a civilian administration to Ituri and eventually ease tensions in the entire province. Under U.N. supervision, a group of citizens representing a cross- section of the province have formed the Ituri Pacification Commission, an embryonic provincial government.

But the UPC, which sees itself as the true authority in Ituri, has fought every effort of the group to assert itself in Bunia, and UPC Commander Thomas Lubanga has called the commission a "mafia coalition."

As a result, U.N. officials are wrestling with what kind of military presence will be needed after Sept. 1, when the French are scheduled to leave Bunia. The mandate of the current U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUC, expires at the end of this month, and the Security Council must decide whether to extend it.

William Lacy Swing, the new head of MONUC, said Monday he hopes to put in place a peacekeeping force of as many as 3,800 troops, mainly from Bangladesh, Nepal and Indonesia, by September.

It can't come too soon for the outgunned French intervention force or for the local civilians.

            The Mulindwas Communication Group
"With Yoweri Museveni, Uganda is in anarchy"
            Groupe de communication Mulindwas
"avec Yoweri Museveni, l'Ouganda est dans l'anarchie"

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