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DRC, Aid Agencies Welcome UN Decision to Send Troops to Ituri Province - 2003-05-31


Government officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo are welcoming the announcement Friday that the United Nations will send a rapid reaction force to the country to help end fighting in the northeastern province of Ituri.

The news has been warmly received by aid agencies and the government here in the capital, Kinshasa.

Bunia is the principal city in Ituri province and the fighting there, between ethnic Hema and Lendu militias, has claimed over 50,000 lives since it first started four years ago.

Uganda and Rwanda have for many years used these militias as proxies to gain dominance over the mineral rich area, which is abundant in gold, diamonds and coltan, a mineral used in the making of mobile phones.

This past month, violence has escalated, following the withdrawal of Ugandan troops from the area, which created a power vacuum that the militias quickly moved to fill. Over 400 people have been found dead in Bunia this month, most of them hacked to bits with machetes.

But it is unlikely that the U.N. troops will be arriving soon in Ituri. Space is tight and infrastructure poor in Bunia's airport, and the chances of getting enough troops and supplies into the region rapidly seem slim.

The violence in Ituri comes at a time when rebel groups and the government have been trying to stitch together a power sharing deal that will lead the country to democratic elections in two years time.

Since it began in 1998, the fighting in Congo has claimed almost four million lives.

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