Features

Congo crisis

International | About 20,000 Congolese refugees from the country's eastern Ituri region this month fled across the Ugandan border

Issue: "Middle East: No easy answers," May 31, 2003

About 20,000 Congolese refugees from the country's eastern Ituri region this month fled across the Ugandan border, bearing machete wounds and gory tales of militiamen dangling the human organs of slaughtered villagers from their guns.

Violence between the region's Hema and Lendu tribes has escalated since Ugandan troops withdrew from the country in early May, and observers say the crisis has all the makings of a Rwandan-style genocide.

A ceasefire meant to take effect on May 17 passed unheeded as the two tribal militias fought for control of the area's capital, Bunia. The countless reports of cannibalism that emerged are the result, missionaries say, of pagan war rituals and the belief that devouring one's enemy will empower a fighter. Two UN workers were also murdered, while its peacekeeping force lacked a mandate to prevent widespread killings. Meanwhile, thousands of traumatized civilians crowded into the local UN complex, too afraid to venture home.

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As the tragedy unfolded, a dozen French military observers arrived in Bunia to consider the UN's request that they deploy about 1,000 troops to the area. Britain also pondered joining a multinational peacekeeping force. One Congolese man who saw his family killed begged the BBC to tell the world to bring "peace by force."

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