Kinshasa slams Rwandan army "infiltration" of Ituri

Kinshasa has condemned the Rwandan army's presence in the Ituri region of northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), saying it must withdraw.

"We have observed the infiltration of Rwanda in Ituri, from where we are awaiting the withdrawal of Ugandan troops as soon as possible," Luaba Ntumba, the DRC's minister for human rights, told reporters on Monday.

His denunciation came during the opening of a peace conference for Ituri being held in the DRC capital, Kinshasa. The government has flown 24 regional leaders and traditional chiefs from Ituri to Kinshasa to attend the meeting - aimed at ending repeated outbreaks of inter-ethnic hostilities in the country's northeast. Fighting among different ethnic groups in the Ituri city of Bunia from 5 to 9 August resulted in at least 110 deaths. The Hema, a traditionally pastoral people, and the Lendu, a traditionally agricultural people, have frequently clashed over leadership in the region.

Hema and Lendu community representatives, and those of other groups, called for the restoration of state authority in the region to end the secular conflicts being "manipulated by different rebel factions and their Ugandan sponsors", Ntumba said.

On 21 August, Ambassador Amos Namanga Ngongi, the special representative of the UN secretary-general to the DRC, told reporters that underlying political and economic interests drove the conflicts in Bunia. "Everyone is convinced that this is not only an ethnic problem," he said.

The recent accord between Kinshasa and Kampala on the withdrawal of Ugandan troops was a major point of disagreement between the Lendus and the Hemas at the opening of the conference.

"Uganda must withdraw its troops and leave the Congolese to work things out amongst themselves, [then] the fighting will end automatically," Thewi Batsi Larry, a Lendu delegate, said.
He said Uganda was arming the Hema to attack nine other ethnic groups in Ituri. However, Kisengo Bitambara, a Hema chief, said, "Uganda must remain in place, because without them, there is a risk of a genocide."

Only two traditional chiefs with real authority in their communities are participating in this conference. Other principal leaders of ethnic groups involved in the conflict chose to boycott the event in favour of meetings due to be organised in Ituri.

"We will hold other meetings there after the conclusion of this conference in an effort to involve everyone," Ntumba said.