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Fears of genocide build in Congo

From Catherine Bond

Congolese are trying to flee the region fearing renewed fighting when Ugandan troops leave.

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CNN's Catherine Bond reports on the rising fear of genocide in parts of Congo as Uganda prepares to withdraw peacekeeping forces (May 6)
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BUNIA, Congo (CNN) -- Under pressure from the international community, Uganda is withdrawing its troops from the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- but it is creating fears that renewed ethnic fighting and civilian slaughter will erupt.

Panicked Congolese -- fearing a power vacuum and limited role from U.N. peacekeepers will lead to new killing fields -- are desperately trying to escape the country's northeast although most are unable to leave the region.

Uganda was one of five nations neighboring Congo which were sucked into a war in the country and which withdrew forces as part of a peace deal.

But Uganda has since sent troops back into the country to fight what it says were Ugandan dissidents training there. Uganda's most recent withdrawal is to be completed this week.

Taking the place of the withdrawing Ugandans are 800 Uruguayan peacekeepers with a mandate only to protect United Nations personnel.

Uganda says it offered to stay for a couple of more months to hand over control -- gradually and properly, it says -- to a U.N. force with a robust mandate.

There are also contingents of Congolese police, sent to the northeast by Congo President Joseph Kabila.

The man Kabila put in charge, Maj. Gen. Kisempia Sungilanga Lombe, is confident everything will be fine.

"War isn't like a game of football," he said. "Blow the whistle and the match is over. War is something that gradually consumes itself."

Human Rights Watch, based in the United States, said ethnic killings between Congo's Hema minority and Lendu majority have claimed at least 4,000 lives in the past eight months.

"Our husbands are dying," one Congolese woman said. "Our children are left fatherless. Our lives are bad."

The International Rescue Committee, a voluntary relief organization, estimated there were 200,000 deaths since 1998 as a direct result of the war. Many more have died from malnutrition or disease because the war has limited humanitarian aid.

In one Hema-dominated suburb of Bunia, which is frequently threatened by armed Lendu, about 45 people were victims of a single attack carried out last August.

Dselo Dhena, a Hema teacher, said finding peace is difficult.

"We have no peace and we want peace but we don't know who can give us peace," Dhena said. "Even people who surround us seem to be all against us. Nobody for us, only God is for us"

In April, hundreds of people were killed in a massacre in and around the Roman Catholic mission at Drodro, near the Uganda border.

The massacre took place one day after warring Congolese factions signed a political settlement to end several years of conflict.

War broke out in August 1998 when Rwanda and Uganda sent troops to back rebels seeking to oust then-President Laurent Kabila. They accused him of backing insurgents threatening regional security.

Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia sent troops to back Kabila, splitting the country into rebel- and government-held areas.

Most foreign troops withdrew after a series of peace deals, but fighting among rival rebel factions, tribal fighters and Ugandan troops has continued in eastern and northeastern Congo, including Bunia.

Uganda had backed the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), but relations have soured in recent months after the rebels demanded the withdrawal of Ugandan troops. The UPC, a Hema armed group, is now backed by Rwanda.

Since the war began, the Congolese rebels have split into more than a dozen factions. Uganda and Rwanda back rival groups.

Near Bunia, people blamed UPC members for violence.

A man, who told CNN he survived an attack in which his six friends were executed at a roadblock, said: "They themselves told us they were UPC soldiers looking for men like us to kill."

Injured, the man was taken to a hospital by Father Jo Deneckera, a Belgian priest and missionary. Groups of Lendu and Hema are armed and capable of genocide, Deneckera said.

"The Hema also killed very many people. Yes, then they will make a genocide," Deneckera said. "But then the other side is the same."

Hema professor Pilo Kamaragi said he fears that with the departure of Uganda troops there will be massacres between the rival factions.

"If it was up to me, I would change the status of Ugandan troops into U.N. peacekeepers," he added.

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