Congo Crisis: Military Intervention in Ituri
Congo Crisis: Military Intervention in Ituri
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Dans l’est du Congo, « la guerre régionale est déjà là »
Dans l’est du Congo, « la guerre régionale est déjà là »
Report / Africa 3 minutes

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.

Executive Summary

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 takeover.

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.

Nairobi/New York/Brussels, 13 June 2003

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