UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
DRC: Militia groups break ceasefire pact
KINSHASA, 9 Jul 2004 (IRIN) - Fighting has broken out again between two militia groups in the embattled district of Ituri, northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), despite the signing on Monday of a ceasefire agreement negotiated by the UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC.
"The armed groups have not respected the ceasefire, there was renewed fighting early on Wednesday in Ngote, 100 km north of Bunia [the main town in Ituri] between the FAPC [Forces armees populaires congolaises, or Congolese popular armed forces] and the FNI [Front des nationalistes integrationnistes, or Front of the Integrationist Nationalists]," Rachel Eklou, a spokeswoman for the MONUC in Bunia, told IRIN on Thursday.
Fighting between FAPC, mainly composed of ethnic Lendus, and the FNI, mainly comprising ethnic Hemas, resumed last week despite the Act of Engagement signed on 14 May, under which seven militias active in Ituri committed themselves to end hostilities.
Eklou said FAPC had declared that it had lost 19 men and the FNI 28 during the fighting that started in late June.
The acting resident coordinator of the Ituri administration, Emmanuel Leku, said the renewed fighting appeared to be centred on the region's gold resources. "Hundreds have fled the fighting over the Ndjani gold mine, and [...] crossed to Uganda," he said.
A MONUC assessment mission reported on Thursday that civilians fleeing the fighting had deserted the village of Ngote and headed for the town of Mahagi, some 38 km to the east, where a Nepalese contingent of MONUC troops was deployed.
A resumption of the conflict, which has cost 50,000 lives in the Ituri region since 1999, is feared, according to the UN.
As the fighting in Ituri escalated, the think-tank Africa Initiative Programme on 4 July published a report saying "there remains a high risk the leaders of the Ituri armed groups might renege on the recently signed Act of Engagement", and warned against the rising ethnic polarisation of the conflict, notably between Hemas and Biras.
The report gives such indications as the resumption of operations by the Union des patriotes congolais (UPC, or Union of Congolese Patriots) in Bunia, by the FNI/Forces de resistance patriotiques en Ituri (FNI/FRPI, or FNI/Patriotic Resistance Forces in Ituri) whose leader, Pitchou Iribi, was arrested on 24 June, and by another faction of the UPC, whose leader, Floribert Kisembo, was also arrested by MONUC on 25 June.
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