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U.N. Peacekeeping Troops in DRC to Stay Until July 2004

Even as the newly formed transitional government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) announced that ethnic troubles in Ituri province were its first priority, more people were dying.
At the first meeting of the new government on July 25, the ethnic killings that have gripped Ituri for the better part of 4 years were targeted as the first concern for Ministers. On that same say, 7 people died in the area of Bunia, Ituri's largest town. On July 31, 6 more died after being stone to death; at this point, the United Nations officials on the ground say they don't know the reasons behind these killings but they suspect ethnicity is the likely cause.

The U.N. has peacekeeping troops in the area of Bunia but due to lack of numbers and lack of mandate, they are presently unable to effect any calming efforts outside of Bunia itself. However, the U.N. Security Council unanimously agreed on July 29 to increase the complement of troops from 8,700 to 10,800 and to extend its mandate to at least July 2004. The troops had been scheduled to leave in September of this year and most observers predicted that would only result in another outbreak of inter-ethnic warfare. Despite the periodic deaths such as those noted above, a relative calm has descended on this region with the presence of the troops.

However, now additional fighting has been reported in South Kivu province. Two militia groups, known as RCD-Goma and Mayi-Mayi, have never stopped fighting according to their spokespeople. Even though there is supposedly a nation-wide truce and ceasefire in effect between all the various militias, including these two, they say they have never stopped defending themselves against each other. They each have representatives in the new government, who have decried this violence and who seem powerless to stop it. The government is instead trying to curb the movement of weaponry into the area in hopes of taking away the means to fight.

But in a troubling story, there are multiple accusations that this fighting in South Kivu is being fuelled by the Rwandese Patriotic Army. Rwanda denies they have deployed troops anywhere in DRC but these accusations have persisted and the national government is asking the U.N. to send in observers to verify.

At least one semi-bright note for DRC is the anticipated forgiveness of more than 10 billion US$ in debt by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) under their "Heavily Indebted Poor Countries" initiative. This is largely in the form of debt service payments that will not be required over the next 25 years and, as is usual with the World Bank and IMF, is contingent on DRC following IMF directions for the management of their economy. Despite this news, DRC's economy remains in tatters and some in the new government are less than happy with the IMF's "good news" because they see World Bank and IMF directives as being largely responsible for ruining DRC's economy in the first place. To be sure, five years of civil war and thirty years of rapacious dictatorship bears most of the blame; but keen observers of the region note that without IMF manipulation of DRC's finances for decades and their support for the dictator, the civil war may never have occurred.

YellowTimes.org correspondent Paul Harris drafted this report.

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