The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) government is concerned that the premature withdrawal of Ugandan troops from remaining positions in Ituri will worsen the situation, and blames the Union des patriotes congolais (UPC) led by Thomas Lubanga for the lack of progress in setting up the Ituri Pacification Committee (IPC).
"If Uganda withdraws their troops from Bunia on the 25th December, this would constitute a violation of the Luanda accords," Vital Kamerhe, the commissioner-general of the DRC government in charge of the peace process in the Great Lakes Region, told IRIN.
The withdrawal of Ugandan troops outlined in the peace accords signed by DRC President Joseph Kabila and his Ugandan counterpart, Yoweri Museveni, on 6 September in the Angolan capital, Luanda, should have been preceded by the setting up of a pacification committee in this troubled district of northeastern DRC.
A preparatory committee is set to meet on 17 December in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, to try to complete the setting up of the full IPC. This process has been blocked due to the preconditions of the UPC, say government officials in the DRC capital, Kinshasa.
"It is the intransigent nature of Thomas Lubanga and his unacceptable demands which are actually preventing the evolution of the work," says Kamerhe. Lubanga had expelled members of the preparatory committee, which comprised DRC and Ugandan officials and civil society, on 6 October from Bunia, Kamerhe added.
The UPC is demanding that the government recognise the region of Ituri as an autonomous province, separate from the Orientale Province. It also insists that the government end all military and material support for the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie-Kisangani-Mouvement de liberation (RCD-K-ML), whose troops are vying against the UPC for the control of Bunia.
"The good faith and sincere intentions of Uganda, who have effective control of this territory, as well as the sincere intentions of ethnic militias on the ground, constitute the main key to unlocking the setting up of the IPC. The government has always proved their will to restore peace to Ituri," said Kamerhe.
Intellectuals and members of civil society from the region see things the same way. They believe that the role of Uganda, which supports the different rebel factions and militia in the region, is the deciding factor in the resolution of the crisis.
"There are invisible hands. Uganda is pulling strings to continue to exploit, in a unofficial way, Ituri's riches in gold," says Ipakala Abeiye, who is from the region and the edits an independent newspaper in Kinshasa.
"Uganda is using double speak. With the Congolese government, they give the impression of wanting peace, whereas on the ground, they encourage Lubanga to continue the war," says Jean-Marie Amuli, the representative of a Bunia NGO consortium. "The UPC was created after the Inter-Congolese Dialogue. It is a dissident of the RCD-K-ML, which already had a place in the dialogue," said Amuli.
Official Kinshasa sources indicated that the RCD-National (RCD-N) and the Mouvement de liberation du Congo (MLC) would be included in the IPC as observers. Also, “the international community could be represented if the organisers deem it necessary”, Kamerhe said. At the same time, under the Luanda accord, the DRC and Uganda are to form a joint military committee to handle border security. The formation of this committee, which is expected to manage joint border patrols on the west of the Rwenzori mountains, is also delayed.