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» 11.10.2010 - Congo rapes suspected Rwandan rebel arrested
» 25.11.2009 - UN mission failing to root out rebels in DRC
» 23.11.2009 - Two Congolese warlords trial resumes
» 11.11.2009 - Tribal clashes uproot over 21,000
» 29.10.2009 - UN steps in to help in Angola/DRC refugee saga
» 12.05.2009 - Comprehensive strategies critical for Kivu peace, ICG says
» 11.05.2009 - RSF condemns suspension of local station in DRC
» 11.05.2009 - UN envoy condemns rebels attacks in DRC

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Congo Kinshasa
Human rights | Agriculture - Nutrition | Politics

"Land claims were behind Congo's Ituri crisis"

afrol News, 10 August - Illegal land claims were key to the clashes and massive human rights violations in north-eastern Congo Kinshasa's (DRC) Ituri District, a new UN report concludes. Forest, agricultural, gold and oil resources were behind the "illegal land seizures," which in 2001-04 led to ethnic strife.

The Ituri district in the north-eastern region of Congo Kinshasa (DRC) is "undergoing one of the world's worst and most ignored human rights crises, largely stemming from illegal land seizures, which have led to ethnic strife, the deaths of 8,000 civilians and the displacement of another 600,000," a UN report published today says.

The report, drafted by the Human Rights and Child Protection Sections of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo (MONUC) and submitted this week to the UN Security Council, covers abuses from January 2002 to December 2003, but also includes events leading up to the atrocities of these two years.

- Driving the conflicts are claims to the region's productive farmlands and forests, the Kilo Moto gold mine, one of the largest in the world, and other goldfields, potential oil reserves in the Lake Albert basin and rich fish stocks, according to the UN.

According to the report, the Ituri crisis has long historic roots. Departing Belgian colonists, who had leased land from traditional chiefs of the Lendu people in Ituri, left it during political upheavals in 1973 in the care of its managers of the Hema people. The managers began illegally and secretly to register the land in their own names, especially when a Hema, Zbo Kalogi, became Congolese Minister of Agriculture, the report says.

- The latest conflict, which has provoked so many of the abuses, was sparked off by a particular land dispute in 1998 when some Hema concessionaires took advantage of the weakened state apparatus to illegally enlarge their estates to the detriment of neighbouring, mostly Lendu, agriculturalists, MONUC's report to the Security Council says.

Lendu farmers, members of what may be Ituri's second-largest ethnic group after the Alur, revolted when law enforcement agents came to evict them from their land. They then tried to ruin property belonging to the land-grabbing Hema leaders. Believing there was a Hema conspiracy against them, however, they also punished innocent Hema people in their reprisals, it says.

Leaders of increasingly divided rebel factions vying for political power in Ituri, home to 18 ethnic groups, have profited from the ethnic resentments originally generated by the land disputes, the UN report says.

- The pre-transition government in Kinshasa, and the governments of Rwanda and Uganda all contributed to the massive abuses by arming, training and advising local armed groups at different times, it says. Uganda, Rwanda and their allied militias militarily controlled the region during the Congolese war.

When the Hema militia, Union de Patriotes Congolais (UPC), took over Ituri's capital, Bunia, in August 2002 and May 2003, they tried to empty the town of its Lendu, Bira and Nande residents, the last seen as commercial rivals to Hema businessmen. "Hundreds of Lendu villages were completely destroyed during attacks by Ugandan army helicopters together with Hema militia on the ground," the report says.

Thousands of school children aged 7 to 17 were put into the armed groups of all sides and entire villages were destroyed in the clashes, it says. Women and girls on one side were seized by men on opposing sides and made into "sex slaves" and "war wives," or were just raped and released.

- The chiefs of armed groups took over the roles traditionally held by administrators, businessmen, traditional chiefs and law enforcement officers, the MONUC report says. "They appointed 'public officers,' collected local taxes, sold the natural resources of their area of control, arrested civilians, judged them and, in some cases, executed them."

Abuses were carried out with total impunity by Ituri and non-Ituri perpetrators alike, the report adds. Meanwhile, "apart from the delivery of a humanitarian aid shipment early in 2004, humanitarian aid from the government to the Ituri victims has been negligible."

The UN report adds, however, that by the March 2004 finalisation of the report, MONUC had been able to declare Bunia a weapons-free zone and to establish outposts around Bunia at Iga Barriere, Bogoro, Mongbwalu, Marabo, Tchomia, Mahagi and Kpandroma, while patrolling other areas of Ituri.

The report concludes that, because of the massive human rights abuses, which were "too many to chronicle comprehensively," it was vital that the UN Security Council renew the mission's mandate when it expires at the beginning of October. The peacekeepers' current mandate allows the troops to use force in certain circumstances.

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