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Congo Government Increases Efforts to Establish Peace - 2003-10-01

Government officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo are stepping up their plans to bring peace and justice to the northeastern Ituri Province, which has been fought for by ethnic Hema and Lendu militia since 1999.

Since U.N. troops took over from a French-led European rapid reaction force last month, they have been working hard to establish their authority in northeastern Congo's Ituri Province, which has been the site of a conflict that has claimed more than 50,000 lives since 1999, a war within Congo's wider war.

With a mandate issued by the U.N. Security Council authorizing the mission to open fire whenever deemed necessary, U.N. troops have fired at militia, arrested militia leaders, confiscated illegal weapons from them and forced them to start working together.

Tuesday saw the first ordinary meeting of a permanent council for all armed groups that has been set up to act as a preventative measure to halt the spread of further violence.

The day before, ethnic Hema and Lendu leaders had marched through the town of Bunia, Ituri's principle city, to jointly try to convince the population of the segregated town that freedom of movement for the town's citizens would be encouraged and expected.

Government officials have praised the U.N. efforts to bring back peace to mineral-rich Ituri, a province roughly the size of Sierra Leone. The government plans to send about 3,000 police officers to Bunia to aid in the peacekeeping effort.

The government also is formulating plans on how to re-establish local magistrates to bring back law and order.

Ethnic Hema and Lendu militias have been manipulated by Rwanda, Uganda, and the Congolese government in their bid to control Ituri's gold, diamonds, and coltan - a mineral used in the manufacture of mobile phones.

The continuing violence in the province is a stain on a new national government of reconciliation that has just ended Congo's five-year war, a conflict that had claimed more than three million lives.

Both Rwanda and Uganda had originally used the pretext of chasing out rebels from their own countries as a reason to invade eastern Congo, before turning to exploiting the region's natural resources.