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A Human Ecological Catastrophe
Ituri: A Crossroads of Cultures
A remote province named Ituri, which borders Uganda and the Sudan in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.), has become the scene of Africa’s worst nightmare. Tribal armies, including child soldiers, have killed thousands of people. There are reports of rape, mutilation, and cannibalism.
Ntumba Luaba, human-rights minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, describes Ituri as “a cemetery.” In an emotional statement to the Foreign Press Association in Paris in May, he appealed for United Nations intervention. “If the multinational force does not arrive soon,” he said, “there will be nothing left to save but the trees and the rocks.”
Luaba has been to Ituri twice in the past year in an effort to negotiate peace between the province’s warring Hema and Lendu peoples. His first mission to Bunia ended in humiliation when he was taken hostage by Hema militia. During a second visit, in May, his plane made a forced landing after being hit by a rebel missile.
The International Rescue Committee puts the death toll in the D.R.C. at between 3.1 million and 4.7 million people since August 1998, making it the deadliest conflict on the globe since World War II. Of those who have died in the conflict, the majority are civilians who perished from starvation and disease after being driven from their homes. Several hundred thousand were murdered.
Undisciplined government forces have contributed to the chaos. (The government of the D.R.C., headed by President Joseph Kabila, controls around half of the country with support from Angola.) Their abuses include summary executions, rape, looting, and other violent acts. Luaba admitted that there has been “killing, too much killing.” But he insisted that the army’s conduct would be subject to an international commission of inquiry and said he has warned commanding officers that they would be held responsible for the death of civilians.
Following are excerpts from Ntumba Luaba’s May 27 conference with the Foreign Press Association in Paris.
Radio Côte d’Ivoire: Are we not reliving the days of [the D.R.C.’s first prime minister, Patrice] Lumumba? The Congolese people have no chance to decide [their future] for themselves. More powerful countries are undermining the D.R.C.’s sovereignty so they can control its natural resources—and the U.N. cooperates.
France 3 (French TV station): Why can’t MONUC [the U.N. observation force in Ituri] put an end to this situation?
World Press Review: What could the United States do to stop the killing?
France 3: On what do you base the assertion that the United States can influence Uganda and Rwanda?
World Press Review: Do you think the estrangement with France influences the willingness of the United States to get involved?
The Observer (U.K.): Are you trying to influence public opinion in the hope that it will increase pressure on the governments of England and the United States?