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Last Updated:  Monday, 7 April, 2003, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Hope survives DR Congo killing
Victims of recent clashes between the Hema and Lendu
The Hema and Lendu have a long history of conflict
The BBC's Mark Dummett was in north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo last week, when up to 1,000 people were killed in a massacre by an ethnic militia.

On Friday, talks opened in Bunia, the capital of Ituri district, that, for the first time grouped in one room representatives of all the different ethnic factions, militias and concerned governments.

The talks were, everyone said, the best chance for peace that the long suffering four and a half million people of Ituri had.

At the same time survivors in Drodro, some 80 km away were recovering from an appalling experience.

The day before men, women and children from a rival ethnic group charged into the town and neighbouring villages from five directions.

Using machetes and some guns, survivors say they butchered 966 people.

The attackers were from the Lendu ethnic group, the victims Hema.

Human bones

That same day the UN rights investigators who visited Drodro over the weekend, drove 45 kilometres out of Bunia to Cobu.

I travelled with them - through a succession of burnt-out villages.

Four years
Seven foreign armies
At least 2 million dead
Disease and abuses widespread

At one place we passed human bones in the road - apparently placed as a warning.

We were later shown what locals said were the mass graves of between 35 and 75 people.

The victims that time were Lendu, the killers Hema.

Bunia's White hospital - named so because in colonial days only the Europeans were allowed to be treated there - is full of victims of the fighting.

Ngayo is about to give birth, she is nine months pregnant, but she is also dying.

To either side of 20-year old Ngayo's cot are other victims of Ituri's ethnic war - an old woman with wounds to her neck which Lendu fighters tried to slash, and there are two young women with legs blown off by landmines planted by Hema militiamen.

Praying for peace

Her mother Jean Ernestine explained that the family home is near the town's airstrip.

Heavy fighting broke out there when the ruling faction - a Hema militia called the UPC attempted to oust its one-time backers the Ugandan army.

A Hema family
Thousands of people have fled their homes

Because Ngayo was heavily pregnant she could not find shelter in time, a bomb exploded over head and she was hit.

Everyone in Bunia I spoke to said they were praying the so-called Ituri Pacification Commission would end the terrible cycle of violence in Ituri, that started with a simple land dispute between the pastoralist Hema and the Lendu, who tend fields.

Local groups say more than 50,000 people have been killed, while villages and towns are out of bounds to aid workers and UN peacekeepers.

Schools, hospitals, and the gold mines of the area, have been looted.

Neutral force

Things however are changing for the better.

For the first ever time, Bunia seems to have a responsible Ugandan soldier in charge.

Ethnic militia fighters in north-east Congo

Previously rival Ugandan commanders armed rival factions and flew the region's wealth back to Kampala.

Now they say they want to leave Ituri for good and, what's more, an Ituri that is peaceful and functioning.

The plan is to have a neutral force in charge of Bunia itself. Angola, South Africa, or the UN might provide the troops for this task.

Houses rebuilt

The UN too seems to be getting its act together.

There are reports that more peacekeepers, perhaps with a stronger mandate will be sent in soon.

I saw houses being rebuilt and saw districts of Bunia, which had been terrorised by Hema death squads, filling up with returnees.

But no-one thinks the killings will stop soon.

There are worries that too many people still have guns, and that the mutual hatred still has not gone away.

Jean Enerstine, caring for her dying daughter, however is optimistic things will improve.

"We are all fed up with this war," she says. "We are praying to God that peace will return to Ituri."

Caution over DR Congo deal
03 Apr 03  |  Africa
DR Congo peace deal signed
02 Apr 03  |  Africa
Uganda-Rwanda tension mounts
17 Mar 03  |  Africa
Clash overshadows Congo deal
07 Mar 03  |  Africa
DR Congo's road to peace
21 Oct 02  |  Africa

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