Bunia (Fides Service)- There was no trouble in the hand-over of control by the European Union peace force in Ituri (north-east Democratic Congo) to the United Nations peacekeepers, as part of the MONUC (UN Mission in Congo). Yesterday, September 1, was in fact the date for the withdrawal of Artemis, multinational force led by France, deployed in Ituri to stop violence provoked by armed groups operating in the area. “The situation in town is calm, the UN troops have taken up the positions left by the Artemis soldiers and the people are getting on with their normal activity” a local Church source in Bunia, capital of Ituri, tells Fides Service. “The people welcome the UN peacekeepers because they think they will be better able to deal with armed groups compared to the French troops which were the main group of the Artemis force”.
“The deployment of UN troops in Bunia is certainly important” the source says “but these peacekeepers must intervene to protect the people in villages where violence continues. This is another silent war on civilians which escapes the spotlight of international media. It is time the world realised what is going on here. ”.
“The only help these people have comes from a few courageous priests who share the suffering inflicted by bands of unscrupulous bandits” the source tells Fides Service.
For years Ituri has been in the grip of civil war involving various local armed groups supported by different neighbouring countries interested in exploiting the riches of the area. Ituri is in fact rich in gold, coltan (used for cell telephones ) uranium and oil (still to be exploited).
Since 1999 at least 50,000 people have been killed in the war, including some priests. On May 7 Fr. Raphaël Ngona was murdered at his home. On 11 May guerrilla groups killed two priests whose mutilated bodies were found in the parish buildings in Nyakasanza along with those of 48 other persons who had taken refuge there They were parish priest Father François Xavier Mateso and Father Aimé Ndjabu. In Bunia at the time there was already a small group 700 UN which had neither the mandate nor the means to stop the fighting. At the end of May, at the request of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the European Union decided to sent the Artemis force to Bunia for three months to give the UN time to deploy the larger peacekeeping force which has now replaced the European soldiers and has the mandate to use force to protect civilians. (L.M.) (Fides Service 2/9/2003 lines 38, words 491)