Tuesday, 10 June 2003

Kinshasa (Fides Service) – As the peacekeeping force sent by the European Union deploys in Bunia, in the Ituri region, north-east Democratic Congo, ever more critical is the situation of displaced persons sheltering in the more southern lying Butembo-Beni diocese.
Rassemblement Congolais for Democracy RCD-Goma rebels are in fact advancing in that direction where, local sources tell Fides Service, there are at least 203,000 refugees camped in various parts of Butembo territory.
According to Fides sources RCD-Goma troops are now only 70 km from Butembo, and the city could fall at any moment.
The people fled from Bunia during hostilities in the past weeks between Lendu and Hema militia fighting for control of the city. Many of the displaced persons were originally from Butembo but they moved to Bunia in search of work.
It was in order to stop the fighting in Bunia, that the European Union decided, in agreement with the United Nations, to send a peacekeeping force of 14000 men now being deployed, in support a 700 strong United Nations peacekeeping mission, MONUC, already in Ituri (see Fides 5 June 2003). “We want the international force in Kivu too” local Church sources tell Fides Service, “where the fighting is now concentrated. This part of Congo cannot be ignored if we want to put an end to the war devastating in our country”.
The EU peacekeeping force has a very short mandate – it must withdraw before 1 September 2003 – but observers fear that this is too brief a period for MONUC to become an efficient force.
RCD-Goma is one of the main guerrilla groups which oppose the Kinshasa government and despite a peace agreement signed in Pretoria, South Africa in December 2002, it continues to fight for control of more territory. LM (Fides Service 10/6/2003 EM lines 26 Words: 300)