afrol News, 24 October - A warning expressed by Amnesty International of a possible genocide among the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups in the Ituri region in north-eastern Congo Kinshasa is increasingly being heard. The UN and the European Union are now expressing grave concern about the increased violence in the area.
Last week, Amnesty warned about "consistent reports of large-scale killings of unarmed civilians" in Ituri in north-eastern Congo. The group expressed "fears that deliberate incitement could lead to the possibility of genocide."
Without explicitly mentioning the danger of genocide, the UN and EU this week have repeated Amnesty's warning. The EU on Monday stated it was "seriously concerned by the rise in human rights violations in the Ituri region and urges the parties to the conflict to respect the human rights of the population."
Yesterday, the UN warned against armed groups in the eastern part of the Congo that were "deliberately inciting ethnic hatred as part of the ongoing fighting there," and unless the international community acted to forestall it, the country would face a "massacre of horrific proportions."
Speaking at a press briefing on her recent mission to the Congo and Burundi, the UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Carolyn McAskie, told reporters that the messages emanating from that part of the country were "sounding very familiar" and that "we have heard them before" in the region. Genocide in neighbouring Rwanda in 1994 killed an estimated 800,000 people.
According to the UN, more than 2.5 million people have died in the Congo Kinshasa between 1998 and April 2001 as a result of the conflict. Many UN agencies and non-governmental organisations routinely report widespread killings, torture and other human rights abuses against civilians by armed groups on all sides.
In one incident, a hospital was surrounded and hundreds of people were killed, Ms McAskie said, while children had been turning up in hospitals with mutilations and machete cuts. Sexual violence has also been used as a weapon of war by most of the forces involved in the conflict.
This confirms reports by Amnesty, which say "there have been mass killings and targeted rapes based on ethnic identity. Extremist calls for 'ethnically pure towns and villages'" had increasingly been spread. Extremists who were once on the margins of the ethnic groups were now in leading positions in Ituri region and extreme hatred was escalating.
The ethnic clashes between the Hema and Lendu peoples have significantly escalated over the last years, with several massacres of civilians being confirmed. The conflict has left an estimated 50,000, mainly civilian, dead since June 1999, and forced around 500,000 people to flee, with 60,000 displaced in Bunia, the capital of Ituri province, alone.
The Ugandan army, which still controls the area, has on several occasions been held responsible for the escalating conflict between the Hema and Lendu peoples. Uganda reportedly arms militias of the two rival peoples to exploit the power vacuum left by this internal conflict.
Ugandan troops generally have supported the Hema, a local minority people related to the Hima people of Uganda. This in turn aggravated the long-standing ethnic conflict that these two peoples have had over the fertile lands for generations; in a situation somewhat comparable to the Hutu and Tutsi further to the south. The Hema are traditionally pastoralist, while the Lendu are mainly farmers.
A UN report on the illegal resource exploitation in Congo Kinshasa released on Monday also repeats the allegations of Ugandan responsibility for the Hema-Lendu conflict. According to this UN report, the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) continues to "provoke ethnic conflict, as in the past, clearly cognizant that the unrest in Ituri will require the continuing presence of a minimum of UPDF personnel."
The Ugandan government on several occasions has denied it is part of the Hema-Lendu conflict. On the contrary, its troop several times had "restored the order and avoided further bloodspelling." The UN experts disagree; the Ugandan army has been "providing arms to both sides in the ethnic conflict, the Lendu and the Hema," they say.
Having the 1994 Rwandan genocide in mind, where international troops fled the country just before they could have prevented the disaster, there are now calls for an increased international presence in Congo Kinshasa. The EU asked the UN Security Council "to consider steps to review the mandate of [the UN Mission in the Congo] MONUC and consider increasing its monitoring presence."
On Friday, the Security Council had requested the MONUC to cooperate with Ugandan and Congolese authorities "to set up an Ituri Pacification Commission."
Sources: Based on
Amnesty, UN, EU and afrol archives