Skip to main content

DR of Congo: mob attacks UN mission, injures sector chief with machete

DR of Congo: mob attacks UN mission, injures sector chief with machete

Thousands of students and militia stormed a United Nations mission headquarters in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) today, slightly injuring the UN sector commander in a machete attack, destroying UN property and causing grave concern at UN headquarters in New York.

The mob, in the already volatile town of Bunia, was dispersed by UN troops, who fired warning shots in the air, but it returned to lay siege to the mission soon after, a UN spokesman said in New York. Machine guns and light arms were discharged at the headquarters and at least one explosion from either a grenade or rocket was heard.

The UN Security Council strongly condemned the attacks and called on all parties to immediately cease aggression. The Council was briefed by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean Marie Guéhenno who told members Bunia "is on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe," spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

He said Secretary-General Kofi Anan was "extremely concerned" and had phoned regional heads of state. The Security Council is to take up the issue again on Monday "to decide on effective measures to halt the attacks and the violence," the Council President for May, Pakistani Ambassador Munir Akram, said in a statement.

The Ituri region, of which Bunia is the chief town, has been the scene of deadly violence between two rival groups vying for control, with five people killed and countless others wounded last weekend alone, despite efforts by the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) to enforce a ceasefire.

"As we've been reporting, several thousand civilians have sought refuge at the airport - where a small UN force is stationed," Mr. Eckhard said. "These people have no food, water or sanitation facilitates."

He said that in the first attack the UN sector commander was slightly injured when attacked by a machete, and UN vehicles and other property were destroyed. There was no information on any UN casualties in the second attack, but several UN armoured personnel carriers and a bulldozer were called in from the small contingent of Uruguayan UN troops at the airport and they managed to clear the street in front of the headquarters.

Although the area was still under siege, and sporadic gunfire continued to be heard in the vicinity, the situation became quieter as night fell but it remained extremely tense.

Asked whether the situation could be a prelude to the sort of ethnic tensions and slaughter of Hutus and Tutsis that occurred in Rwanda in the 90s, Mr. Eckhard replied: "With reference to Rwanda I would have to tell you that, yes, that has been in the minds of some of the peacekeeping department people and political department people who advise the Secretary-General on the Congo.

"There is concern that the situation could turn very badly and I believe that the Secretary-General has expressed his concerns to the Council," he added.

Fighting in the region between Hema and Lendu militias started after the Ugandan army's withdrawal on 6 May and has continued daily, mostly near the airport, affecting the civilians gathered there. The Lendu are currently in control of the town while the Hema are three kilometres outside. The more than 700 Congolese national police sent to Bunia have been unable to provide any real security and have reportedly dispersed.

MONUC has some 625 Uruguayan troops in Bunia and is today sending an additional 50, constituting its total reserve force.

Asked whether these troops were enough to guarantee peace, Mr. Eckhard said: "We'd have to get a military assessment on that, but I think it's probably safe to say in light of the things that are happening most recently, including today, that it does not look like a sufficient number of soldiers to guarantee security for that region."

He said that among the leaders Mr. Annan had phoned was President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, "asking for coordination between Uganda and the UN troops there as Uganda pulls out and the UN tries to add additional military resources to the region to replace them."