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Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK
DR Congo massacre warning
Lendu villagers
Hema and Lendu use machetes and bows and arrows
The Democratic Republic of Congo faces a potential massacre of horrific proportions unless the international community forestalls it, a senior United Nations official has warned.

The UN's Deputy Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, Carolyn McAskie, told journalists at the end of a trip to eastern DR Congo that ethnic hatred was being deliberately stirred up.

She said that when foreign troops left the Congo the hold of the main rebel group in the east of the country - the RCD - had weakened.

As a result, Ms McAskie said, Rwanda and Burundi had each sent a battalion of troops back in the Congo at the weekend to bolster the RCD.

Aid agencies estimate that more than two million people have already died, mostly from starvation and hunger, during the four-year war which pulled in troops from several countries in the region.

Violence has flared again in recent weeks as militia groups have taken advantage of a vacuum left by the withdrawal of thousands of foreign troops.

Fears

Ms McAskie told journalists in New York there were reports of children arriving at hospitals with machete wounds.

"We already have some reports of violent killings, where estimates of the number of dead range from 200 to 1,000," she said

Uganda has been asked by the UN to keep its forces in Bunia to help keep a lid on troubles there, even though it agreed to pull its forces out of the country.

Last week, human rights group Amnesty International urged the UN Security Council to prevent "genocide" in Ituri province and accused the Ugandan army of involvement in mass killings and targeted rape.

Child in Kindu hospital
DR Congo faces a huge humanitarian crisis

Amnesty International Secretary-General Irene Khan said in a letter to the United Nations that the area was seeing "extremist calls for ethnically pure towns and villages".

"Extremists who were once on the margins of the ethnic groups are now in leading positions. As extreme hatred is escalating, Amnesty International fears that deliberate incitement could lead to the possibility of genocide," she said.

Amnesty says that clashes between the Hema and Lendu have killed an estimated 50,000 people, mainly civilians, since June 1999, and forced some 500,000 people to flee the province.

Talks between the government and Congolese rebel groups are due to resume on 25 October in South Africa, according to the United Nations special envoy, Moustapha Niasse.

The talks are aimed at forming a coalition government ahead of what are intended to be the first free elections since the country became independent in 1960.


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18 Oct 02 | Africa
11 Jun 02 | Africa
05 Jan 01 | Africa
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