Bunia (Fides Service) – “Supplies of food and medicine are running out, life in the city is becoming unbearable” a local priest in Bunia tells Fides Service. Bunia has been at the centre of fighting between Hema and Lendu militia for some weeks. “The city is calm at the moment, after fighting three days ago” the priest says “but the humanitarian situation is deteriorating from day to day. Markets and shops are shut and people don’t know where to go to buy food. Those who fled to the forest cannot return Bunia under these conditions. Unfortunately violence around the area continues: massacres have been reported in several outlying villages and we fear fighting in the city may resume any moment”.
Until April Bunia was under the control of Ugandan troops which withdrew on the basis of an agreement with the Congo government. Their place was taken by Hema and Lendu militia, two ethnic groups which have always had a land dispute. The Hema are herdsmen whereas the Lendu are farmers. Traditional rivalry between the two tribes was encouraged by Uganda which since 1999 armed both sides according to the principle of dividing in order to conquer.
“The UN peacekeeping mission MONUC has deployed about 700 men in Bunia but so far they have not been very effective, they are too small a number” says the priest “what is needed is a more consistent force with a clear mandate from the UN Security Council to divide the warring parties and put an end to hostilities. France has said it is willing to send troops. Let’s hope they arrive soon and help to restore peace”.
In Bunia in recent weeks about a hundred civilians including three priests have been killed. During the night of 6 May Father Raphael Ngona was murdered in his room. On 11 May the mutilated bodies of Parish priest Francois Xavier and Father Aime Ndjabu were found in the parish grounds. Forty eight people who had sought refuge at the parish were also killed. On 19 May two soldiers of the MONUC force were found dead, the men had been savagely murdered.
Congo has a population of 3 million and so far some 50,000 have been killed in clashes between Hema and Lendu tribes. LM (Fides Service 21/5/2003 EM lines 33 Words: 444)