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Ituri District Militias
Front for National Integration (FNI)
Patriotic Force of Resistance in Ituri (FRPI)
People's Armed Forces of Congo (FAPC)
Congolese Revolutionary Movement (MRC)

The DRC's northeastern Ituri District faces security challenges resulting from its geographic location, ethnic composition, and wealth of natural resources. The instability in this region has often been separate and apart from the larger threats and waves of violence which have swept through the eastern part of the country. At the base of the original conflicts were tensions between indigenous Hema and Lendu ethnic groups, which fought one another for control of land for agricultural or pastoral use. Subsequent clashes between Hema and Lendu continued throughout the wars which engulfed the rest of the DRC beginning in the late 1990s. However, as Ituri shares a 200-mile land border with Uganda -- in addition to 90 miles of shoreline along Lake Albert -- outside interest in the District and neglect by Kinshasa left it vulnerable to manipulation by its neighbors.

In late 2002 and early 2003, Ituri saw the creation of a host of militia groups backed by individuals in Uganda and Rwanda. These militias -- including the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), the Front for National Integration (FNI), the Patriotic Force of Resistance in Ituri (FRPI), and the People's Armed Forces of Congo (FAPC), among others -- were founded predominantly along existing ethnic lines. Disambiguating these groups and their leaders can be a bit of a challenge. For instance, Mathieu Ngonjolo is authoritatively reported as the leader of the Congolese Revolutionary Movement (MRC), but Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, who was tried and acquited by the International Criminal Court, was identified in that venue as chief of staff of the Front for National Integration (FNI). These are presumably the same person, who was associated with the FNI at the time his crimes were committed, but subsequently had a falling out and set up his own shop.

As central government authority in Ituri was almost non-existent during this period, these militias effectively controlled the region politically, economically and military. One of their goals was to gain control of the region's abundant natural resources, including gold and wood. The militias fought to control land, particularly the gold mining region of central Ituri, and to prevent rival ethnic groups from achieving economic dominance. Militia groups engaged in extensive illegal cross-border trade in exchange for money, or more often, weapons. The lack of central government controls in Ituri provided an ideal environment for the groups to operate and thrive.

At its peak, the conflict involved some 25,000 militia throughout Ituri, which descended by mid-2003 into a complete state of lawlessness. The French-led Operation Artemis that year ultimately established a tenuous beachhead in Bunia that allowed MONUC to resume operations there. As MONUC deployed several thousand peacekeepers to the region, and the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) dispatched tens of thousands of its own troops, joint operations slowly eroded the militias' overall control of Ituri. While neither MONUC nor FARDC officials can quantify how many militia members have been killed, the estimated number of those remaining in Ituri in mid-2006 was approximately 2,000. MONUC officials and others in Ituri reported that those militias still operating -- primarily the FNI and FRPI -- were concentrated in specific areas; namely, the Nioka-Fataki axis north of Bunia, and the Tchei-Semiliki axis south of Bunia.

Three other factors, aside from military operations, contributed to the decrease in militia numbers. First, approximately 9,000 ex-combatants have been demobilized and reintegrated back into their communities. While the demobilization programs in Ituri have faced significant financial and logistical problems, they have nonetheless provided an opportunity for thousands to turn in their arms.

In addition, government authorities have captured several high-ranking militia leaders over the years, including Thomas Lubanga of the UPC and Chief Kahwa Mandro of PUSIC. While removing these militia commanders from the field has not resulted in the dissolution or disappearance of the militias themselves, the arrests have had a chilling effect. The handing over of Lubanga to the International Criminal Court in The Hague was viewed with alarm among militia supporters -- an indication that militia leaders may no longer be able to evade justice.

A third important factor in addressing the militia threat in Ituri was the creation of an interim administration by the GDRC to govern the District as a semi-autonomous region. Led by District Commissioner Petronille Vaweka, the interim administration has been able to establish some measure of control and provide limited services to the population. Vaweka herself became a central force in successful efforts to demobilize and disarm militias by virtue of the authority of her office, as well as her own tireless efforts to negotiate peace settlements. But lacking full support and virtually any funding from Kinshasa, Vaweka and the administration did not have the resources to impose governmental control and to build economic infrastructure.

Ituri District's security was long threatened by the presence of local armed militias backed by Congolese and Ugandan elements seeking to profit from the region's abundant natural resources, instability, and lack of central government authority. Over the three years 2003-2006, a series of joint MONUC-FARDC military operations, along with significant demobilization efforts and the arrest of several militia leaders, has slowly reduced the overall threat these militias posed. The Ituri militias -- an estimated 2,000 fighters in 2006-- were however the hard-core remnants of the former groups.

Forces loyal to Peter Karim's Front for National Integration (FNI) and Mathieu Ngonjolo's Congolese Revolutionary Movement (MRC) clashed twice in late September 2006 in the northeastern part of DR Congo's Ituri District. The fighting remained highly localized. However, it is a break from recent, tacit cooperation between Karim and Ngongolo.

On 18 September 2006 a group of about 100 armed men in military uniforms threw "bombs" into Karim's camp in the town of Jiba, approximately 35 miles northeast of Bunia. They returned the next morning, engaged in a firefight with FNI militia in the village market, burned down Karim's camp, and proceeded to harass villagers and loot the local mission hospital. Two civilians were killed and one wounded. The attackers were members of Ngonjolo's MRC militia, augmented by Congolese army (FARDC) soldiers of Hema ethnicity; Karim's FNI is largely composed of ethnic Lendus. MONUC officials report that another series of FNI-MRC clashes took place in Jiba September 23, during which several houses were set on fire. Later, a small group of ethnic Lendus in a neighboring village destroyed the homes of several Hemas whom they suspected of being among the attackers. The MRC had attacked the FNI to evict it from Hema lands.

Militias in the Ituri District of Orientale Province, including the Front for National Integration (FNI), the Congolese Revolutionary Movement (MRC), and the Front for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri (FRPI), signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in October 2006 that included promises of amnesty and FARDC commissions for their leaders, many of whom have been widely accused of crimes against humanity. As a consequence, reports of more serious abuses by Ituri militias decreased in 2007. Peter Karim, leader of the Ituri-based Front for National Integration (FNI), has agreed to disband his militia in exchange for the promise to be integrated in the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) and given the rank of colonel.

Ituri militia leaders Peter Karim of the Front for National Integration (FNI) and Mathieu Ngonjolo of the Congolese Revolutionary Movement (MRC) were named as colonels by the GDRC after they agreed earlier this year to surrender their weapons and demobilize their respective militias. Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) Ituri Operations Commander General Mbuayama Nsiona said the GDRC signed the decree authorizing the commissioning 02 October 2006. The FARDC initially rejected giving Karim and Ngonjolo the rank of colonel because neither controlled the 6,000 troops a colonel in the FARDC would normally command. Karim and Ngonjolo, however, refused to disarm their militia members if they were not given the promised rank.

Despite the signing of a 2006 ceasefire agreement between militias in the Ituri District of Orientale, including the Front for National Integration (FNI), the Congolese Revolutionary Movement, the Front for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri (FRPI), and the government, the FRPI refused to participate in the peace process and was implicated in abuses committed against civilians in Ituri District during the year 2010. Abuses by militias in Ituri were more often acts of banditry, rather than politically or ethnically motivated violence.

Incorporating these militia members into the Ituri integrated brigades ultimately undermined efforts to professionalize and discipline the FARDC. The purpose of brassage was to break up former armed groups and disperse their members throughout the country so they no longer pose a threat in the regions where they previously operated. In the case of General Jerome, the pretense of brassage was at least maintained as his militia was sent to neighboring North Kivu for integration and training. But keeping the unbrassaged ex-FNI forces in Ituri -- where the militias conducted illegal trade and harassed local populations -- provided continued temptation for these same troops, regardless of the FARDC uniform they wear. Moreover, adding these suspect elements into the FARDC -- which itself has discipline problems and often engages in gold and timber smuggling -- eroded efforts to build an effective military force.

Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, a Congolese national who was chief of staff of the Front des nationalistes et intégrationnistes, was charged with three counts of crimes against humanity and seven counts of war crimes allegedly committed in the context of an armed conflict in Ituri, during the attack against the Bogoro village on 24 February 2003. The Congolese army colonel and former militia leader faced three counts of crimes against humanity and seven counts of war crimes that included using child soldiers to murder, rape and force women and girls into sexual slavery as part of the day-long massacre. Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui was transferred to the ICC detention center in The Hague (Netherlands) on 07 February 2008. The trial started on 24 November 2009.

On 18 December 2012, Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) acquitted Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui of the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The decision was taken unanimously by the Chamber. Human rights groups called the verdict a "hard blow" to the victims in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where violence continued. Presiding Judge Cotte explained that in view of the evidence before the Chamber as well as the testimonies of witnesses had not been proven beyond reasonable doubt that Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui was the commander of the Lendu combatants from Bedu-Ezekere during the attack against the Bogoro village on 24 February 2003. The judges emphasized in a statement that their verdict does not mean that Ngudjolo is innocent of any atrocities, nor does it call into question the serious crimes committed in Bogoro that day or the suffering of that community.

This was the ICC's second verdict, and first acquittal, in its now 10-year existence.

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Page last modified: 18-12-2012 19:19:43 ZULU