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Congo Crisis: Military Intervention in Ituri


The district of Ituri, in Oriental Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been the theatre of spiralling violence bordering on genocide that urgently needs to be stopped. A French-led Interim Emergency Multinational Force (IEMF) is being deployed to restore peace and order in the administrative centre – Bunia – and facilitate humanitarian relief. However, this intervention, authorised by UN Security Council Resolution 1484 of 30 May 2003, is on the face of it totally insufficient.

Only a more forceful and geographically more extensive UN intervention maintained for much longer than IEMF is envisaged can lead to sustainable peace. It must have the physical capability and political backing to use its Chapter VII mandate robustly against some degree of potential armed opposition and be geared towards restoration of Congolese state sovereignty. The UN intervention must also be supported by sustained international pressure on the conflict’s regional actors and their proxies to support pacification and finalise negotiations toward establishment of a legitimate transitional Congo government. Anything less is likely to leave the Congo divided, insecure, and a source of further instability throughout Central Africa.

Indeed, Ituri pacification should provide a formula for the wider, directly linked task of pacifying the entire eastern Congo, notably the Kivus, where the conflict’s toll has been even higher and which have been at the heart of the region’s wars in the past decade. A local consultative process, sidelining criminal warlords and supported by a multinational force with the backing described above could also be used to disarm and demobilise the Hutu armed groups and pacify the Kivus. But the international community must first prove that it can succeed in Ituri, where the conflict is the outcome of intertwined confrontations:

  • The Hema and Lendu communities are both the central actors and victims of ethnic strife over communal access to land, mineral resources and local power.

  • Hema and Lendu politicians and businessmen turned warlords have, since 1999, found willing Ugandan supporters to carry on their destructive activities. Initially limited to one territory – Djugu – and a land dispute, the conflict has spread and is fuelled by a continuous flow of small arms, increasing dramatically deaths – estimated at 50,000 – and displaced civilians – approximately half a million – since 1999.

  • Uganda, Rwanda and Kinshasa are waging a proxy war in Ituri.

The settlement of the Ituri conflict is intended to take place within the framework of the Luanda Agreement of 6 September 2002 between the Ugandan and DRC governments, in which Kinshasa traded withdrawal of Ugandan troops against establishment of a joint security mechanism at the common border and the holding of an Ituri Pacification Commission (IPC) to which Uganda would be party. Uganda sought to perpetuate its political influence in Ituri while exploiting the natural resources of a district that contains the world’s largest gold reserves. The agreement also sealed a new alliance between Angola, the DRC and Uganda. Through the IPC, Kinshasa hoped to consolidate its presence in North-Eastern Congo and, with Uganda, block Rwanda’s influence in Orientale Province.

Should the IPC, supported by the UN Mission in the Congo (MONUC) succeed, Rwanda knows international pressure would mount for the Kivus, where it has long been active, to be next. While Rwanda and its ally, the RCD-Goma, risked losing ground in the Congo peace process, another armed group, its local proxy, the UPC, which gained control of Bunia in August 2002, stood to lose all influence in Ituri if the IPC took place. Its leader, Thomas Lubanga, opposed its holding until he was removed from Bunia by Uganda, which recaptured the town and flushed out all Rwandan presence from the district on 6 March 2003. By mid-April, the IPC was finally organised under MONUC patronage. A civilian Ituri Interim Administration (IIA) was elected by 32 participating delegations. MONUC promised to fill the security vacuum left by Uganda’s withdrawal and support IIA implementation of an agreement for all militias to canton and disarm their troops and form a joint police force.

The UN, however, dramatically failed. The town was thrown into chaos by two weeks of fighting between Lendu and Hema, and ethnic cleansing occurred next to the UN compound. The UPC retook Bunia on 12 May and is intimidating and threatening the IIA, the only legitimate authority elected to run Ituri until the government of transition can take-over.

Ituri’s pacification remains highly uncertain. The IEMF is conceived only as a stopgap, to hold the line until additional MONUC troops are deployed in September. Yet, if it does not urgently demilitarise Bunia, it is likely to be caught in a crossfire of accusations from all militias that almost certainly will lead to conflict. If MONUC cannot deploy outside the town and lacks a robust mandate to support the cantonment and disarmament of the militias and protect civilians in rural areas, Ituri pacification will be stillborn, and acts of genocide could be committed within a few kilometres of Bunia while peacekeepers watch helplessly.


With Regard to North-Eastern Congo (Ituri)

To the French Command of the IEMF:

  1. State clearly its intention to negotiate the full demilitarisation of Bunia with the armed groups, in support of the Ituri Interim Administration (IIA) elected by the Ituri Pacification Commission on 14 April 2003.
  1. Refrain from meeting and engaging with any militias individually or in the absence of both MONUC and the IIA.
  1. Immediately shut down Radio Candip, which has been used by the UPC to spread hate propaganda in Bunia.
  1. Inform the militias that any hostility expressed towards international humanitarian agencies, MONUC personnel, IIA personnel or any civilians residing within the perimeter subject to demilitarisation will be met by the appropriate use of force.
  1. Plan immediately and deliver as quickly as feasible the necessary support for the cantonment of the armed groups 15 km outside Bunia and away from any major access road to Bunia, support, together with the IEMF and the IIA, the negotiations for their operational disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration, repatriation and rehabilitation (DR), and supply no food to them without DR.
  1. Post immediately M. Behrooz Sadry, the Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, former chairman of the Ituri Pacification Commission and overall President of the Ituri Interim Administration, to Bunia for at least six months, to accompany the pacification process and support his Congolese counterparts in the interim administration in the negotiations for cantonment of the armed groups and DR.
  1. Set-up radio Okapi in Ituri immediately to counter rumours and inform internally displaced persons (IDPs) of the situation in Bunia and the help they are likely to receive.
  1. Plan at once to train a new Congolese police force for Bunia as it has done in Kisangani.
To the UN Security Council:
  1. Be prepared to review the resources of the IEMF and to authorise their appropriate reinforcement should they prove inadequate for any of the above tasks, including the prospect of having to make good on a threat to disarm forcibly fighters who refuse to disarm voluntarily.
  1. Authorise a revised and more robust mandate for MONUC in order to support the pacification of Ituri (North-Eastern Congo), including the following:
  1.     complete and sustained demilitarisation of Bunia in order to continue support for the Ituri Interim Administration in its negotiation for the cantonment and DR of all militias;
  1.     planning for deployment of peacekeepers, respectively in Aru, Mongwalu and Irumu, to support humanitarian access to IDPs and the work of the IIA for the same negotiations in the rural areas as in Bunia, such planning to include determination of how many troops would be necessary in each location, and what would be required for adequate logistical support and, in the event of serious difficulties, for their protection; and
  1.     deployment of MILOBS teams, supported as necessary by armed peacekeepers, at border posts, strategic routes, airstrips and other lakeside points of entry in order to deter, monitor, and report on small arms flows and to make such seizures as they can in order at least to contain the problem.
  1. Appoint an international commission of inquiry on war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide committed in Ituri since June 1999, that in turn should:
  1.     deploy immediately to Bunia to work with the conflict prevention and verification commission of the Ituri Implementation Administration and the MONUC human rights department; and
  1.     recommend a procedure for handling particularly serious crimes committed since June 1999, whether by a Congolese court, an international court, or a special court adapted to the particular situation, including the possibility that those committed after 1 July 2002 might be taken up by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
To the members of the International follow-up committee of the transition in Kinshasa (U.S., UK, France, Belgium, South Africa and Angola):
  1. Keep strong international pressure on the governments of Rwanda, Uganda, and DRCongo, and warn them that:
  1.     all supplies of weapons and ammunitions to their respective proxies in Ituri must immediately be stopped;
  1.     they will be held responsible if their respective proxies threaten the presence or undermine the joint work of MONUC, the IEMF and the IIA in Ituri;
  1.     their respective proxies must immediately abide by their commitment to the demilitarisation of Bunia and to negotiate the cantonment and DR of their troops jointly with the IIA, the IEMF and MONUC;
  1.     They should immediately withdraw their own military personnel from Ituri;
  1.     they and their respective proxies should make the necessary compromises to finalise the last leg of the power-sharing negotiations so that there is a government of transition in the DRC before the end of August 2003; and
  1.     Unless proof is given that clear action is being taken on the above matters, they will review critically all support currently being given to the recalcitrant government.
To the governments of Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC, the RCD-Goma, the RCD-ML, the MLC, and the RCD-National:
  1. Stop all supplies of weapons and ammunitions to their respective proxies and allies in Ituri and immediately withdraw all military personnel from the district.
  1. Make the necessary compromise to finalise the negotiations on the creation of a new Congolese army and establish a government of transition before the end of August 2003.
  1. Pressure their respective proxies and allies in Ituri to work together with the IEMF, MONUC, and the IIA for the complete demilitarisation of Bunia, the cantonment of all militias, the distribution of relief food and medical care to the IDPs and the immediate ending of all fighting.
To PUSIC, FNI/FRPI, FAPC, FDPC, UPC, RCD-ML, and other Ituri militias:
  1. Cooperate with the IEMF and the IIA to proceed with the full demilitarisation of Bunia and the cantonment of troops at least 15 km outside Bunia, and allow the free movements of civilian populations on all access roads leading to Bunia for the safe distribution of relief food and medical care.
  1. Abide by all commitments made in the 18 March 2003 ceasefire agreement and in the 16 May 2003 Dar-es-Salaam agreement to support the Ituri pacification process and immediately end all fighting.
With regard to Eastern Congo (The Kivus)

  1. Take the initiative, once a government of transition is formed in Kinshasa, to propose organisation of a Kivu Pacification Commission, involving the government of transition (with the current government, RCD-ML and RCD-Goma representatives included), the different Mai Mai leaders, civil society representatives, traditional leaders and all other armed groups such as the militia led by the current north-Kivu governor Eugene Serufuli, who is not party to the Pretoria agreement, to establish a roadmap for the sustained pacification of the Kivus.
  1. Develop a realistic plan for what would be required to deploy a well armed military contingent in the Kivus to support DR operations with respect to the Hutu armed groups, protect at least significant concentrations of civilian populations, and patrol the Rwanda-Kivu border sufficiently to deter infiltration from the armed groups into Rwanda.
To the UN Security Council:
  1. If the situation warrants, pass a resolution authorising such action and ensuring the necessary resources are made available.
To the UN Secretary General:
  1. Appoint a regional Special Envoy to negotiate both with the armed groups and the Government of Rwanda the modalities and operational framework for DR.
To the governments of the U.S., UK, France, Belgium, and South Africa:
  1. Keep strong international pressure on the governments of Rwanda, Uganda, and DRCongo, and warn them that:
  1.     All supplies of weapons and ammunitions to their respective proxies in the Kivus must immediately be stopped;
  1.     they should immediately withdraw all military personnel from the Kivus; and
  1.     unless proof is given that clear action is being taken on the above recommendations, they would review critically all support currently being given to the recalcitrant government.
Nairobi/New York/Brussels, 13 June 2003


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