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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 9 April, 2003, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
DR Congo massacre toll revised down
Drodro grave
Survivors described the savage machete attacks

The UN has drastically cut its estimate of how many civilians they believe were massacred last week in north-east Democratic Republic of Congo.

Witnesses had told them that just under 1,000 people had been killed in a three hour period, but the UN is now saying the figure is likely to be somewhere between 150 and 300.

UN observer mission (Monuc) envoy Berhooz Sadry told a UN-run radio station that: "The other people included in the earlier toll were injured, some very seriously, in machete attacks."

The Monuc official said an inquiry was continuing into the ethnic killings in Ituri Province - an area rife with political and tribal tension.

On Wednesday, South African President Thabo Mbeki hosts a meeting of heads of government from the Great Lakes region in Cape Town, which is expected to focus on the situation in DR Congo.

The meeting is being attended by the Congolese president, as well as the leaders of Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania.

South African Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said the massacre in Ituri had given the meeting a sense of urgency.

The current tension between Rwanda and Uganda over DR Congo is also expected to be discussed.

Uganda has warned that if the Rwandan army goes beyond Beni, it would face fire from their forces. Beni is in northern DR Congo, in an area bordering Ituri Province.

Justice

On Wednesday, Pope John Paul appealed to Congolese leaders to bring an end to the "massacres and summary executions" in the area.

Sergio Vieira de Mello
Alarm at the UN over "savage" killings

Meanwhile, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, has given a commitment that those responsible for the massacre would not go unpunished.

Mr Vieira de Mello said he was alarmed by the "savage killing spree".

"The perpetrators of these atrocities will be placed under the spotlight and will be obliged to answer for their actions," he said.

The International Criminal Court is the first permanent international tribunal established to try cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Witnesses in the village of Droro, near the town of Bunia, described how the massacre took place over three hours last Thursday. The attacks took place in some 15 villages.

More accurate toll figures are likely to be difficult to obtain until the bodies can be exhumed from mass graves.

Africa's worst war

Details of the latest massacre emerged as an aid agency, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), published its account of the full scale of the impact of the war.

DR CONGO'S WAR
Drodro grave
Four years
Seven foreign armies
At least 3 million dead
Disease and abuses widespread

It said 3.3 million people had died as a result of the war, making it the "tragedy of modern times".

The IRC said only 10% of the victims died violently, the rest dying from starvation and disease due to the activities of the various armed groups.

"This is a humanitarian catastrophe of horrid and shocking proportions... Yet, the crisis has received scant attention from international donors and the media," said the IRC president, George Rupp.

Africa's worst ever war began following the invasion of the north and east of the country by Rwanda and Uganda, to, as they said, prevent armed groups attacking them from Congo's territory.

This brought in armies, which have now left, from other countries to fight on the side of the Congolese Government.

However, clashes in the troubled north-eastern region, close to the Ugandan border, remain a potential stumbling block to peace.

The massacre in Ituri occurred last Thursday, a day after a peace agreement was signed in South Africa marking the end of 19 months of talks between the government, opposition parties, civil groups, militia and rebels.




SEE ALSO:
Hope survives DR Congo killing
07 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


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