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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 May, 2003, 18:01 GMT 19:01 UK
Gunfire rocks DR Congo town
Refugee from Bunia
Tens of thousands have fled the fighting

Heavy fighting is once again raging in the town of Bunia in north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Dead bodies are reported to litter the streets of the town, where rival ethnic militias have been battling for control since Ugandan troops withdrew last week.

At least ten people are reported to have been killed and more than 100 wounded.

The United Nations has appealed to other countries to follow France's example in offering to send peacekeepers to the region.

Some UN officials have warned of a possible genocide in the resource-rich region, where an estimated 50,000 people have been killed in recent years.

Fighters surrounded a UN compound in the town, where scores of people have been killed and thousands more have taken refuge during eight days of fighting between rival ethnic militias.

"There's fire everywhere, from mortars, from Kalashnikovs and other heavy arms," said UN spokeswoman Patricia Tome in Bunia.

The latest attacks came as President Joseph Kabila flew to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania for a regional summit to discuss the crisis in eastern Congo.

Ethnic Hema and Lendu leaders are reported to have also left Bunia airport to attend the talks along with Congolese Human Rights Minister Ntumba Luaba who was sheltering at the UN compound.

Aid supplies

The UN has about 700 troops, mainly Uruguayans, based in the town where some 10,000 residents are seeking shelter at the UN compound as street battles rage.

On Monday, Hema fighters took the town from their Lendu rivals, who now say they are trying to retake it.

Africa is neglected by the UN and the world, no one cares.
Nollascus Ganda, Kenyan in Russia

France has offered to contribute troops although the Hemas say they would consider French troops as enemies.

"We are in touch with other governments to see if they will join France in such an effort," UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told reporters in New York.

In Paris, the foreign ministry said France was "ready to contribute to the stabilisation of Ituri... provided there is a clear mandate and that other governments join in".

Meanwhile, the UN Children's Fund (Unicef) has announced that two planeloads of humanitarian aid supplies have been sent to Ituri, AFP news agency reports.

Medicine and water purification tablets were delivered to the UN mission in DR Congo (Monuc) for distribution, Unicef spokesman Damien Personnaz said.

Humanitarian crisis

Floribert Ndjabu Ngabu, leader of the Lendu Front of Nationalists and Integrationists, said his troops had launched a counter-attack on Tuesday.

DR CONGO'S WAR
Four years
Seven foreign armies
At least 2 million dead
Disease and abuses widespread

Most of the city's population of 300,000 has fled the fighting.

Pope John Paul II has called on Christians to renounce violence in the region after getting reports that at least two Roman Catholic priests and others had been killed at a Catholic church in Bunia city.

A local human rights group, Justice Plus, said that residents had identified 112 people who had been killed during the week-long clashes.

One local man said he feared an outbreak of cholera in Bunia as there were no toilets, not much food or water, and no shelter for the population.

'Genocide'

Some officials have likened recent killings and racial tensions in the area to the start of the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Carla del Ponte, chief UN war crimes prosecutor for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, said the killing in Ituri bordered on genocide.

"From what we know, it could be a genocide," she said in New York.

The Kinshasa government sent 600 special police to Bunia when the Ugandan army started its pullout, but only 100 remain. The rest have all fled.

The Hemas and Lendus have long clashed over land and other resources.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Jean Baptiste Dhetchuvi, UPC on Focus on Africa
"The town is now under our control"


BBC's Will Ross on Focus on Africa
"The refugees are laying the blame at the feet of the UN"



SEE ALSO:
Unease in volatile DR Congo town
02 May 03  |  Africa
DR Congo town 'volatile'
09 May 03  |  Africa
Fighting in DR Congo town
11 Apr 03  |  Africa


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