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Upsurge of Violence in Eastern Congo Raises International Concerns - 2002-10-17


An upsurge in violence in eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo is causing concern among aid agencies and regional officials. The violence erupted following the withdrawal of Rwandan forces less than two weeks ago. Amnesty International is calling on the United Nations to step up its presence in the region before the violence spirals out of control.

The Rwandan government, United Nations World Food Program and Amnesty International have all expressed concern about the current fighting in eastern Congo.

Godfrey Byaruhanga, a researcher with Amnesty International in London, says there is a risk of genocide in the Ituri region of eastern Congo unless United Nations troops move in to fill the vacuum left by departing foreign troops. "MONUC, the mission of United Nations in the Congo, has completely failed to protect the civilian population, and the leaders of the various armed groups are inciting members of their ethnic groups against the opponents," he said. "As a result, there is a real potential that this conflict could spiral completely out of control. And indeed there is a possibility that genocide will be committed if no measures are taken to prevent an escalation of this violence and indeed to stop it."

The Rwandan government has expressed similar concerns. On Wednesday, Rwanda criticized the international community for failing to respond to the escalation of fighting in eastern Congo since its troops pulled out earlier this month.

Thousands of Congolese refugees are fleeing across the border to Burundi to escape the fighting, explains World Food Program official Laura Melo. "Our estimation is that at least 10,000 Congolese refugees have crossed the border into Burundi since last Friday," she said. "These are provisional numbers. It is possible that a higher number of people have in fact arrived. These people come mainly from Uvira. This is a very sudden influx since last Friday. And there is a serious possibility that more people will cross the border into Burundi."

A Congolese tribal militia captured the lakeside port of Uvira, in eastern Congo, from forces allied to Rwanda on Sunday.

Rwanda alleges that the attackers are in fact Rwandan extremists bent on attacking Rwanda. Rwanda's government says it will move to defend itself if nothing is done to calm the situation.

The U.N. says it is worried that foreign troops will return to eastern Congo because of the fighting that has erupted since their withdrawal.

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