Ethnic groups differ over Ugandan troop pullout

The warring Hema and Lendu ethnic groups in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have failed to see eye to eye over the withdrawal of Ugandan troops from the Ituri region.

The disagreement came at the end of a peace conference between the two groups in Kinshasa last week. The Lendu want the immediate withdrawal of Ugandan troops from the main town of Bunia, while the Hema support their continued presence there.

"We favour security, and say that the Ugandans know how to maintain calm," Hema spokesman, Pilo Kamarati, told IRIN.

But Lendu spokesman Thewi Batsi retorted that true peace would "come automatically when there is no longer a presence of Ugandan troops to support the Hemas in Ituri".

Despite their differences, the two communities, in conjunction with other ethnic groups in the region, signed a final communique demanding the departure of the Ugandans and their replacement by a police force. No consensus was reached on a timeframe for the withdrawal.

"The accord that President Joseph Kabila and [Ugandan president] Yoweri Museveni are in the process of signing foresees a progressive Ugandan withdrawal and the progressive installation of a police force and administration," said DRC Human Rights Minister Ntumba Luaba-Lumu, who presided at the conference.

"The accord between Kampala and Kinshasa foresees synchronising the departure of the Ugandans and the installation of our police to avoid a gap," he added.

Uganda has officially withdrawn all its forces from the DRC, except for two battalions which would remain to safeguard civilian security in the troubled city of Bunia, official Radio Uganda reported last week.

Uganda signed a peace deal with the DRC on 15 August, under which it pledged to withdraw most of its troops remaining in the country.

Bunia, with a population of about 300,000, is less than 50 km from the Ugandan border. The pastoral Hema and the agricultural Lendu, have frequently clashed over leadership in the region, which is rich in minerals and timber.