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Militias clash in eastern DR of Congo, killing 52

Militias clash in eastern DR of Congo, killing 52 civilians, UN mission says

More than 50 people were killed and thousands displaced in the latest clashes between Lendu and Hema groups in the eastern district of Ituri in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), according to the United Nations peacekeeping mission there.

A Lendu militia called the Nationalist Front for Integration (FNI), including 30 children, attacked people from the Hema ethnic group and 10,000 people from Ché and other villages were seeking protection, Mamadou Bah, a spokesman for the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC), said at the weekly briefing for journalists.

The MONUC multidisciplinary investigating team learned that armed civilians were in the militia, as were about 30 children aged 12 to 15, he said yesterday.

Humanitarian organizations were distributing life-saving emergency assistance to internally displaced people (IDPs), UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the DRC Ross Mountain said.

The swift response was made possible by the joint rapid response fund, managed by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), he added.

Mr. Mountain expressed concern over the plight of the people of Ituri. "Over 40,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the area since the beginning of the year and are now surviving in increasingly difficult circumstances."

Driving the Lendu-Hema conflicts are disputes over 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, MONUC said in a report last August.

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 said.

Meanwhile, stressing how difficult a job the DRC's Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) faced in organizing elections later this year, Mr. Bah said, "MONUC has appealed to other transitional institutions to support and encourage the CEI rather than simply criticizing it and downplaying its image."

He also urged the National Transitional Government to "restore discipline within the DRC's armed forces."

By 8 February, 2,913 ex-combatants had joined the national Disarmament and Community Reintegration process and 24,509 weapons and munitions were collected, adding 254 people and 9,658 weapons to last week's figures, MONUC said.

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