Congo Massacre: Expert Calls for More Int'l Involvement in African Crises

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - A massacre of more than 1,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) could be replicated in other countries in the Great Lakes region and Horn of Africa if political conflicts here don't receive "level-headed attention," an analyst here said Monday.

Tribal militias are accused of carrying out the brutal killings late last week in the Ituri province in the northeastern part of the mineral-rich country, close to an area now controlled by the invading army of neighboring Uganda.

A Nairobi-based expert in security and government issues, Dr. Hassouna Moustafa, said Monday that the massacre was the result of a culmination of tensions between the governments of Uganda and another country involved in the DRC conflict, Rwanda.

The two administrations are tussling over control of tribal militias fighting in the DRC.

Moustafa said the international community must become more involved in helping regional governments settle a number of political conflicts, including those in the DRC, Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan.

"The massacre was a message that the conflicts in Africa need more attention and resources than those being directed at the Iraq war," he argued.

United Nations officials in the DRC attributed the massacre to a four-year-old conflict between two ethnically based militia groups, the Hemas and the Lendus, a fight that is an extension of the broader civil war that has raged in the DRC.

Those killed and the survivors - members of the Hema tribe - bore bullet and machete wounds.

"This is the worst single atrocity since the start of the civil war," said Manodje Mounoubai, spokesman for the U.N. mission in the DRC.

"The attack started with a whistle blow and lasted between five and eight hours," he said.

A U.N. team has found at least 20 mass graves, and exactly who was responsible remains unclear.

Eyewitnesses told U.N. officials that the attackers included women and children, as well as men in military uniform.

Thomas Lubanga, leader of one of the rebel groups - the Union of Congolese Patriots - accused Ugandan troops and Lendu tribal fighters of carrying out the attacks against the Hema.

However, a Ugandan army spokesman denied the accusations, saying his troops were at least 15 kilometers from the scene of the massacre.

DRC Human Rights Minister Ntumba Luaba called for a thorough investigation by the U.N. to ensure that the perpetrators are caught and punished.

According to Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organization, civilians have frequently been targeted in the fighting between local forces and their more powerful foreign backers for control over the resource-rich region.

Civilians who are regarded as supporters of competing groups are often attacked, with the killings being carried out on an ethnic basis, it said.

The massacre came only three days after the U.S. congratulated the warring parties in the DRC for signing a peace settlement in South Africa aimed at ending nearly five years of war.

The State Department had termed the peace plan an "important step" towards reuniting the country.

Last Wednesday, more than 350 Congolese delegates from President Joseph Kabila's administration, the opposition and several rebel factions signed a document called the "Final Act," a peace plan providing for a transitional constitution and partial agreement on defense and security issues.

The plan creates a power-sharing government to last for 30 months, headed by Kabila and four vice-presidents while leading to new, democratic elections.

On Monday, despite the massacre, Kabila was sworn in as transitional president. The leaders of the key rebel groups boycotted the function.

Complex Conflict

The former Belgian colony, previously known as Zaire, has not held democratic elections since independence in 1960.

It was ruled for three decades by autocratic President Mobutu Sese Seko and has been unstable since Mobutu's overthrow in 1997 by rebels led by Laurent Kabila and aided by the armies of Rwanda and Uganda.

Kabila ruled by decree and alienated his former allies. Uganda and Rwanda turned against him, backing three anti-government rebel factions in the east and north of the country, which is larger than Alaska.

Kabila, in turn, won the military support of Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia in an increasingly complex and hugely costly civil war.

Kabila was assassinated in 2001 and succeeded by his son, Joseph.

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