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DRC: MONUC to probe Bogoro massacre, pending security conditions

KINSHASA, 5 March 2003 (IRIN) - MONUC, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, announced on Wednesday that it would send a mission of inquiry into massacres perpetrated during fierce fighting among rebel groups last week in Bogoro, in the northeastern district of Ituri, once security conditions enabled it to do so.

"We have begun negotiations with the UPC [Union des patriotes congolais] and other groups fighting in the region," Namanga Ngongi, the head of MONUC, said at a news conference in the capital, Kinshasa, on Wednesday. "We are waiting for the first signs of security - minimal security guarantees - to send a commission of inquiry."

The massacres reportedly took place during clashes among the UPC, its rival - the newly created Front pour l'integration et la paix en Ituri led by Kawa Mandro Panga, a former UPC defence minister - and other armed ethnic groups in the region.

The UPC leader, Thomas Lubanga, told IRIN on 28 February that about 760 people - primarily civilians - had died, and that at least 2,000 people had fled fighting that erupted in the region between Bunia, the principal city of Ituri District, and the border with neighbouring Uganda. However, these figures have not been independently confirmed.

"The loss of human lives in Bogoro is regrettable. At present, we cannot explain how it happened," Ngongi said. "Is it really worth losing another single life at the same time that political negotiations are taking place in Pretoria [South Africa] in an effort to establish a government of national unity?"

Fighting in Bogoro and around Bunia has led not only to delays in launching the Ituri Pacification Commission (IPC), which was to have held a preliminary meeting on 3 March, but it now threatens the signing of a ceasefire due to take place on 10 March among belligerents of the Ituri region.

"We have lost an opportunity to begin putting an end to these killings," said Ngongi, who added that he was currently undertaking efforts to convene the IPC in Luanda, the capital of Angola.

"In the coming days I will be having discussions with the Angolan foreign minister, who is responsible for mediation of the Luanda accord [between DRC President Joseph Kabila and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni] to encourage him to convene a preparatory technical meeting [of the IPC] as soon as possible," Ngongi said.

He said recently that he would seek UN Security Council action if rebels continued to block peace efforts in the region, where 500,000 people have been displaced, women raped and many children enlisted as soldiers.

Speaking at the same news conference, MONUC Force Commander Gen Mountaga Diallo said that "the situation remains tense in the region, as this morning I learned that [the town of] Mandro was taken by a Lendu-Ngiti [ethnic militia] following Bogoro".

"I am fearful of even worse developments... There is major tension between the UPC and the UPDF [Uganda People's Defence Forces], even though the two parties seem to have reached an agreement that the UPDF would withdraw to the Bunia airport," Diallo said, referring to an accord signed by the two groups on Sunday in an effort to defuse rising tensions between them.

Last week, following the release of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's latest report on the DRC, which highlighted the "volatile" situation on the ground, the Council issued a press statement expressing particular concern over the situation in Ituri, and calling on the UPC to cooperate fully with MONUC.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict

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