TORONTO (NFTF.org) -- Within twenty-four hours of the arrival of French troops to establish a peacekeeping force, violence has once again erupted in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (Background Report). Associated Press has reported that Bunia, the main town in Ituri province, was attacked by a group of Lendu militia early this morning. The Lendu used assault rifles, heavy machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades in a dawn attack on positions of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), a Hema group who currently controls the town. The intent of the raids appears to be to gain some ground before the international peacekeepers who will join the French arrive and begin their attempt to stabilize the area.
It is not clear if there were any fatalities in the fighting but United Nations officials indicate that about 2,000 Lendu militia have entered Bunia and have driven out some of the Hema defenders. Journalists in the area report that some of the UPC fighters who fled the Lendu advance appeared to be younger than about ten years-of-age; even though both sides have declared they have no child soldiers, observers have seen armed children on both sides.
DRC has lived with a civil war since 1998 and in April this year, finally managed to get all sides to agree to a ceasefire and to jointly establish an interim government to carry the nation through to democratic elections in 2005. But the sides have stalled in their forward progress over the constitution of a new national army; pending resolution of that issue, the transitional government appears to be on hold. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has indicated he is sending retired Canadian General Maurice Baril to help get the peace process moving again. General Baril has a stellar reputation in peacekeeping circles and it is hoped his presence can smooth the way for cooperation between the DRC factions.
YellowTimes.org correspondent Paul Harris drafted this report.