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280 Multilated Bodies Found in Eastern Congolese Town - 2003-05-21


Red Cross workers say the mutilated bodies of more than 280 people have been discovered in the eastern Congolese town of Bunia. The death toll from weeks of ethnic fighting is expected to rise.

Some of the bodies found on the streets of Bunia had been decapitated, according to Red Cross aid workers. Others, including women and children, were missing their hearts, livers, and lungs.

Such atrocities have raised fears of a possible genocide in the eastern Congolese town if an international peacekeeping force does not arrive soon.

Red Cross workers say they are likely to find more bodies as they continue to search the remaining neighborhoods.

Fighters from Hema and Lendu tribal militias have been battling for control of Bunia since Ugandan troops pulled out earlier this month. Some of the fighters are teenagers, reported to be heavily armed and high on drugs.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed or wounded, apparently for simply belonging to the wrong ethnic group. Thousands of others have fled, many over the border to Uganda, prompting fears of a new humanitarian disaster.

The United Nations has 600 troops in Bunia, but so far they have been unable to completely quell the violence. But a semblance of peace has returned since a cease-fire was signed Friday in Tanzania.

The United Nations is considering sending more troops to Bunia to stabilize the situation. A small team of French military observers is on the second and final day of its mission to Bunia to assess the possibility of sending in a more substantial force.

But some militia fighters say they do not want foreign forces to intervene, and are threatening to fight them.

The Hema and Lendu have long been rivals, but the animosity between them has intensified in recent years as the governments of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have armed both sides as proxy militias.

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