Illegal Land Claims Fuel Present Clashes In Congo
ILLEGAL LAND CLAIMS HELPED FUEL PRESENT CLASHES IN DR OF CONGO - UN REPORT
New York, Aug 10 2004 2:00PM
The Ituri district in the northeastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is undergoing one of the world's worst and most ignored human rights crises, largely stemming from illegal land seizures which have led to ethnic strife, the deaths of 8,000 civilians and the displacement of another 600,000, a United Nations report says.
The report, drafted by the Human Rights and Child Protection Sections of the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) and submitted this week to the UN Security Council, covers abuses from January 2002 to December 2003, but also includes events leading up to the atrocities of these two years.
Driving the conflicts are claims to the region's productive farmlands and forests, the Kilo Moto gold mine, one of the largest in the world, and other goldfields, potential oil reserves in the Lake Albert basin and rich fish stocks.
The report says because of the human rights abuses, which are too many to chronicle comprehensively, it is vital that the Council renew the mission's Chapter VII mandate when it expires at the beginning of October. Chapter VII of the UN Charter authorizes peacekeeping troops to use force in certain circumstances.
Departing Belgian colonists, who had leased land from Lendu traditional chiefs in Ituri, left it during political upheavals in 1973 in the care of its Hema managers. The managers began illegally and secretly to register the land in their own names, especially when a Hema, Zbo Kalogi, became Minister of Agriculture, the report says.
"The latest conflict - which has provoked so many of the abuses - was sparked off by a particular land dispute in 1998 when some Hema concessionaires took advantage of the weakened State apparatus to illegally enlarge their estates to the detriment of neighbouring, mostly Lendu, agriculturalists," MONUC's report to the Security Council says.
Lendu farmers, members of what may be Ituri's second-largest ethnic group after the Alur, revolted when law enforcement agents came to evict them from their land. They then tried to ruin property belonging to the land-grabbing Hema leaders. Believing there was a Hema conspiracy against them, however, they also punished innocent Hema people in their reprisals, it says.
Leaders of increasingly divided rebel factions vying for political power in Ituri, home to 18 ethnic groups, have profited from the ethnic resentments originally generated by the land disputes, the report says.
'The pre-transition government in Kinshasa, and the Governments of Rwanda and Uganda all contributed to the massive abuses by arming, training and advising local armed groups at different times," it says.
When the Hema militia, Union de Patriotes Congolais (UPC), took over Ituri's capital, Bunia, in August 2002 and May 2003, they tried to empty the town of its Lendu, Bira and Nande residents, the last seen as commercial rivals to Hema businesspeople.
"Hundreds of Lendu villages were completely destroyed during attacks by Ugandan army helicopters together with Hema militia on the ground," the report says.
Thousands of school children aged 7 to 17 were put into the armed groups of all sides and entire villages were destroyed in the clashes, it says. Women and girls on one side were seized by men on opposing sides and made into "sex slaves" and "war wives," or were just raped and released.
"The chiefs of armed groups took over the roles traditionally held by administrators, businessmen, traditional chiefs and law enforcement officers. They appointed 'public officers,' collected local taxes, sold the natural resources of their area of control, arrested civilians, judged them and, in some cases, executed them," the MONUC report says.
Abuses were carried out with total impunity by Ituri and non-Ituri perpetrators alike, it says. Meanwhile, "apart from the delivery of a humanitarian aid shipment early in 2004, humanitarian aid from the Government to the Ituri victims has been negligible."
It adds, however, that by the March 2004 finalization of the report, MONUC had been able to declare Bunia a weapons-free zone and to establish outposts around Bunia at Iga Barriere, Bogoro, Mongbwalu, Marabo, Tchomia, Mahagi and Kpandroma, while patrolling other areas of Ituri.