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DRC: Top UN official calls for "firm intervention" in Bunia

NAIROBI, 26 May 2003 (IRIN) - The UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guehenno, on Sunday visited Bunia, in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), to assess the situation following the fighting between Lendu and Hema militias in which more than 300 people died.

Guehenno told reporters in Bunia that a firm intervention by the UN was urgently needed to stop further massacres.

After arriving in the Congolese capital Kinshasa on Thursday, Guehenno said at least six countries were considering contributing to a rapid reaction force which the UN wants to deploy in Bunia and the surrounding district of Ituri. At present, the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) has about 800 men in Bunia, but they have not been able to prevent massacres of civilians.

After his visit to Bunia, Guehenno was due to fly to Kampala, Kigali and Pretoria for further talks on the situation.

Two weeks of brutal fighting between Lendu and Hema militias began on 7 May after the withdrawal of Ugandan troops that had been occupying Bunia. According to UN News, the Ugandan military commander Brig Kale Kayihura wrote to MONUC on 8 May complaining about the continued fighting in Ituri and declaring that Uganda would reenter the DRC if what he called "elements threatening Ugandan security" remained in control close to the DRC-Uganda border.

A leader of the Hema militia group, the Union des patriotes congolais (UPC), told the Bunia radio station, Radio Candip, on Saturday that there was no question of the UPC leaving town. The UPC signed a ceasefire agreement with Lendu militia on 16 May. The UPC controls Bunia, while Lendu fighters are on the outskirts.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on Friday that due to simmering tensions between the militias, and a pervading lack of security, aid groups were only able to assist a small number of people within Bunia, and had virtually no access to "desperate" populations elsewhere in Ituri.

According to OCHA, Bunia was nearly deserted after roughly 80 percent of its approximately 150,000 residents fled the town, UN News reported. OCHA said humanitarian groups continued to help about 9,000 people camped close to the airport and around the MONUC base.

Theme (s): Conflict, Refugees/IDPs,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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