DR of Congo: UN military officials try to defuse tensions in Bunia after weekend of calm

19 May 2003

Following a weekend of calm in Bunia, senior military officials from the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) went into the town today to try to defuse rising tensions following the return of Lendu militias.

According to a UN spokesman, the situation in Bunia was reported calmer over the weekend. "However, despite the declaration made by the parties in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and a UN-brokered agreement between the Union of Congolese Parties and Lendu parties in Bunia, Lendu militias have re-entered the town and tensions are rising," Fred Eckhard told a press briefing in New York. "Senior military officials from the UN mission in the DRC are now in town to try to defuse the situation."

Bunia, in the volatile, gold-rich Ituri Province, has been the scene of bloody violence for months. The warring Hema and Lendu - vying for control of the town in the wake of the withdrawal of Ugandan troops - have clashed repeatedly over the past two weeks, leaving countless dead and wounded, and driving thousands of frightened civilians into the streets seeking safety.

"The Follow-Up Commission began meeting in Kinshasa this morning," Mr. Eckhard added. "While we are awaiting further details, we understand that there is still a stalemate over the distribution of military posts of the Transitional Government."

On the humanitarian side, an estimated 9,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are now at the airport. The UN is trying to encourage them to continue moving from the town to the airport. The mobile clinic in the UN mission's compound treated 60 wounded over the weekend, while six people were reported killed.

While the UN Mission was assisting the national Red Cross to trace and bury the dead in town, the outflow of IDPs south towards Beni and Uganda remained of concern, particularly as joint assessment teams from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), World Food Programme (WFP) and Ugandan Government have found another 10,000 Congolese refugees in areas north of Lake Albert, which separates western Uganda from north-eastern DRC.

The discovery brings to nearly 20,000 the total number of people fleeing Ituri, according to UNHCR. "Significant numbers are living with friends and relatives and are unwilling to consider relocation to refugee settlements," the agency said. Last week, a 10-person team visited four other locations - mainly fishing villages - on the southern shores of Lake Albert and confirmed the presence of nearly 9,000 Congolese refugees. Registration of those willing to be relocated to the existing Kyaka II camp in Kyenjojo district, west of Kampala, is expected to begin soon.

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