Kinshasa (Fides Service) – “We are pleased that the new government has decided to send security forces to Ituri to re-establish law and order, on the condition that they are given the proper means for their mission and they adopt an impartial attitude, without taking sides”. This was affirmed by a member of the local Church whose name we withhold for security reasons. Ituri region, in north east Democratic Congo, is the centre of fighting between at least 10 different local guerrilla groups. According to Land minister Venant Tshipaka “the national unity government (installed a few weeks ago in Kinshasa) has decided to give maximum priority to finding a solution to the conflict in Ituri, where fighting continues despite the new situation of peace and unity in Kinshasa”. To protect the civilian population, earlier this year the European Union, in agreement with the United Nations, deployed an interposition force in Bunia the main city in the Ituri region. UN observers have been in place for some time in the framework of the MONUC (UN mission for Congo) but their presence fails to stop the fighting which continues to ravage the region.
“Despite the presence of international troops, tension is still high in Bunia” the local priest confirms to Fides Service. “It is feared fighting may resume any moment, and from surrounding villages there are tragic reports of looting, sacking and killing. We face a catastrophe: not a day passes without another massacre like the one in Drodro only days ago”.
In fact the European peace force does not have the power to operate outside Bunia and all Ituri is in the grip of anarchy. It is estimated that since May between 200,000 and 350,000 people have fled the area.
“The Church is living the same conditions as most of the people; churches and mission sacked, priests and people threatened and killed. Our mission nevertheless is to stay with those who suffer because of the war” the priest says.
One sign of hope is that five guerrilla groups in Ituri announced on 23 July that they would disarm and return to their bases. This agreement was negotiated by the United Nations and it was signed by the Union of Congolese Patriots UPC, Armed Forces of the Congolese People FAPC, Front of Nationalists and Integrationists, Popular Forces for Democracy in Congo, Party for Unity and Safeguarding Congo’s Integrity. LM (Fides Service 30/7/2003 EM lines 35 Words: 423)