Ugandan ‘infiltrators’ left Ituri, official says

A group of Ugandans, described as ‘infiltrators’, has left the Democratic Republic of Congo's northeastern district of Ituri, a local official said on Friday.

Ituri District Administrator Petronille Vaweka said the group left Borachi, a village 100 km south of Bunia - the main town in the district – after government soldiers entered the area on Tuesday.

"It is always with the complicity of Iturians who meet outside the country, often in Uganda, that these infiltrators come in to destabilise Ituri with the single aim of looting our [mineral] riches," Vaweka said.

The Ugandans had allegedly been based at Borachi, near Semliki River on the border of the two countries. Semliki is also a stronghold of a Congolese militia, the Front des résistances patriotiques en Ituri (FRPI), whose leader, Cobra Matata, is allied to ‘Col’ Matthew Ngujolo, leader of a loose coalition of militia groups known as the Mouvement révolutionnaires Congolais (MRC).

"This group at Borachi also comprised rebels, military elements of all armies and people who are fleeing the integration of the [Congolese] national army and, worst of all, government soldiers who have deserted to become looters," Vaweka said.

She added: "We do not know the exact number of foreigners, but we cannot talk of an invasion because they enter Congolese territory in groups of one or two and they are often accompanied by Congolese who regularly cross into Uganda."

The liaison officer for the army in Ituri, Lt Kaba Kalonji, said two people died, and two AK-47 rifles and rounds of ammunition as well as grenades were recovered during the raid on Borachi.

The army's intervention was not the first targeting foreign groups in Ituri. Kalonji said Congolese soldiers clashed with 50 Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebels at Mt Zeu in a forest near the border with Uganda. Mt Zeu is 180 km from Bunia.

He said the troops deployed had since returned to Bunia.

Ituri is one of the most fragile regions of the DRC, where several armed groups have remained active since 1999 when inter-ethnic conflict started up between the Hema and Lendu communities in the district.

On 1 April 2004, the government and the United Nations mission in the country (MONUC) established a disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programme in an effort to restore peace and order in the district. Since then, 12,515 combatants surrendered their weapons in the first phase of the programme, and another 6,000 under the programme's second phase this year, according to the country's DDR body, known by the French acronym CONADER.

Other militiamen have refused to give up their weapons and remain loyal to the MRC and another militia group, Nationalist and Integrationalist Front (FNI), which is led by Peter Karim. However, despite Karim being integrated into the national army in October, his men remain active in Ituri.

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