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Last Updated: Friday, 2 May, 2003, 07:43 GMT 08:43 UK
Unease in volatile DR Congo town
By Will Ross
BBC, Bunia

Many Bunia residents are sceptical that the 9,000 Ugandan troops will actually leave this volatile corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Ugandan tank
Ugandan troops have now started to leave Bunia

After so many delays, perhaps this is not surprising.

As one elderly man put it: "These Ugandans - they leave through the door and return via the window."

In an agreement with the Congolese Government and the United Nations, they were all supposed to have left the country by 24 April.

The Ugandans were allowed to remain in the north-eastern Ituri district to keep the peace in a region where ethnic fighting has claimed some 50,000 lives since 1999 and caused 500,000 residents to flee, according to human rights group Amnesty International.

Earlier this month, up to 500 people were massacred in Drodro, 80 km from Bunia in fighting between ethnic Hema and Lendu militias.

Numerous excuses

There was certainly no rush for the Ugandan border as the deadline approached.

On the day itself, the commander of the Ugandan troops, Brigadier Kale Kaihura, admitted that not a single Ugandan soldier had left DR Congo either on foot or by air.

University students
Students want to work for the UN and become rich

Although 1,600 troops have now returned home, the army says it will take three weeks before they are all out.

The excuses as to why they failed to meet the deadline were numerous; firstly the cost of the airlifts.

Then a claim that the United Nations had requested a slower withdrawal - a claim the UN later denied.

Finally, there were scenes of confusion as UN employees attempted to fix a rapidly deteriorating airstrip in Bunia. The heavy Antonov cargo planes had taken their toll and patches where new tarmac had been laid were turning to jelly under the heat.

As a UN steamroller approached I wondered if it might in fact be quicker to get the troops out one by one on the back of the steamroller.

Rural fears

In Bunia town, a march-past by several hundred Ugandan troops went ahead.

From on top of a tank, one young Ugandan soldier threw out Congolese bank notes into the crowd.

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

There was no outright jubilation from Bunia's residents but the general message was: "Thanks for helping us out. But now it's time for you to go."

The picture from the rural areas was different.

People who had just returned to Bunia from the outlying villages expressed concern that if the Ugandans leave, fighting will erupt.

While Ugandans prepared to leave, Uruguayan peacekeepers were beginning to trickle into Bunia.

They had been deployed from other parts of DR Congo and were even chatting with the on-looking and slightly bemused children in the Lingala language.

But everyone, except the UN itself, admitted that 200 peacekeepers are clearly not enough for Ituri district.

Cocktail leaders

A few hundred metres further up the road there was great excitement as a contingent of Congolese police arrived in trucks.

This was the first time they had been deployed since the war began over four years ago and their deployment created a sense of pride in the population.

Congolese police
Congolese police are now responsible for law and order

The day after the withdrawal deadline, a ceremony took place to inaugurate the interim executive and assembly of Bunia.

It is a cocktail of representatives from civil society and all armed groups in Ituri (except the military wing of the Union of Congolese Patriots [UPC] - which in March was flushed out of Bunia by the Ugandan army).

One of the senior executive members, Professor Ruhigwa Baguma, is optimistic that the fighting in Ituri can now end and says it is the interference from outside that has fermented the violence.

"To say that we are in this mess because of the Hema and Lendu conflict is all wrong," he said.

He accuses forces including the Ugandan army of siding with the rival Hema and Lendu ethnic groups to achieve a hidden agenda of benefiting from the natural resources of DR Congo.

Flashy cars

Next to the professor's home is the modest university.

There I met a group of students on the eve of their final economics exam.

Uruguayan peacekeepers
Some Uruguayan peacekeepers have learnt Lingala

One of them, Aime Byensi, had a novel way of approaching the security problem in Ituri.

"The answer is to take all the militias and armed groups to another part of the country and then bring in Congolese troops from outside Ituri," he suggested.

"What do you want to do after graduating?" I asked the students.

"Work for the UN," they all replied before admitting that this ambition has been nurtured through observing the UN personnel in Bunia with their flashy cars and abundance of cash.

'Minor mistakes'

A day after the deadline, the first troops were flown back to Entebbe military base where a high level delegation received them.

Brigadier Kaihura
Brigadier Kaihura has lost weight in Bunia

A chance for me to ask the army chief, Major General James Kazini, about the ongoing allegations that he has personally benefited from the looting of DR Congo's resources.

"Justice will prove that I was not involved in any plundering," he said before adding: "I couldn't call it plundering just minor mistakes by other individuals."

One well-rounded soldier approached Brigadier Kaihura and congratulated him on his work in Ituri, "You have done a great job but you have lost a lot of weight."

Perhaps the Brigadier would have been wise to reply, "You try living in a tent at Bunia airport for months on end!"

Delayed Ugandan pull out begins
25 Apr 03  |  Africa
Hope survives DR Congo killing
07 Apr 03  |  Africa
Clash overshadows Congo deal
07 Mar 03  |  Africa
DR Congo peace deal signed
02 Apr 03  |  Africa
DR Congo's road to peace
21 Oct 02  |  Africa

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