Humanitarian flight denied access to Bunia

An aircraft transporting humanitarian aid was on Thursday denied permission to land in the embattled northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo city of Bunia and ordered to return to the eastern city of Goma.

The incident occurred despite the fact that all pertinent papers and clearances had been obtained and signed by the relevant authorities of the Union des Patriotes Congolais, a dissident faction of the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie-Kisangani-Mouvement de liberation led by Thomas Lubanga, and had been presented at the airport.

The authorities later conceded that the flight had indeed been granted clearance to land, and promised to investigate the case.

The refusal of permission to land appears to have been an arbitrary decision by an official who had not been provided with a copy of the landing clearance by the Ministry of Communication and Transport.

However, it has been widely reported that local authorities are trying to establish MBAU/Pax Airlines as monopolistic carrier for humanitarian goods into Bunia, and that this was the reason behind the SunAir landing denial.

Humanitarian organisations have now expressed concern that humanitarian flights run by the EC's Humanitarian Aid Office could also be denied access to Bunia.

Amnesty International has, meanwhile, warned of the threat of genocide being carried out in the region.

"There have been mass killings and targeted rapes based on ethnic identity. Extremist calls for 'ethnically pure towns and villages' have increasingly been spread," Irene Khan, the secretary-general of Amnesty International, said in an open letter to the UN Security Council.

As extreme hatred is escalating, Amnesty fears that deliberate incitement could lead to the possibility of genocide. Amnesty warned that the international community needed to take "urgent action", and called on the Security Council to increase the numbers of observers in the region in order to curb further attacks against civilians.

Amnesty said it had received consistent reports of large-scale killings of unarmed civilians, ordered and condoned by leaders using ethnic affiliations to acquire or maintain economic and political power. As a result, armed clashes between members of the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups had left about 50,000, mainly civilian, dead since June 1999, and forced around 500,000 people to flee, with 60,000 displaced in Bunia, the capital of Ituri Province, Amnesty reported.