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Ugandan Occupation Worsens Congo's Problems
(New York, March 28, 2001) Ugandan authorities have fueled political and ethnic strife in eastern Congo with disastrous consequences for the local population, Human Rights Watch charged in a report released today.

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"Uganda sent its troops into Congo supposedly to assure its own security, but in the process, it has caused greater insecurity for its unfortunate neighbors."

Alison DesForges Senior Advisor at the Africa Divsion of Human Rights Watch

The fifty-page report, "Uganda in Eastern DRC: Fueling Political and Ethnic Strife," documents how Ugandan authorities meddled in rivalries among factions of the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD). Some of these quarrels degenerated into military skirmishes in which civilians have been killed and injured.

The report shows how Ugandan soldiers intervened in a long-standing dispute between Hema and Lendu peoples, in many cases lending firepower to Hema, sometimes in return for payment. During more than two years of Ugandan occupation, the Hema-Lendu war claimed more than 7,000 lives and displaced an estimated 200,000 people.

Uganda has pulled some of its troops out in recent weeks, but not from the areas most affected by the abuses described in the report.

"Uganda sent its troops into Congo supposedly to assure its own security, but in the process, it has caused greater insecurity for its unfortunate neighbors," said Alison Des Forges, Senior Advisor at the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "Pulling out some of its troops does not relieve Uganda of the responsibility for investigating and punishing the soldiers who have been involved in these crimes."

Des Forges said that Congolese leaders, including the heads of political factions and organizers of militias, have also violated the rights of their fellow citizens in Ugandan-dominated zones. The Ugandans trained local combatants who were recruited by rival political leaders on the basis of personal or ethnic loyalty, and who were more likely to be used for local advantage than in the war against the Congo government. Both the Ugandans and leaders of the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Liberation Movement (RCD-ML) recruited and trained children as combatants. In August 2000 Uganda airlifted 163 children from Congo to Kampala for military training.

"Uganda has repeatedly promised to end the use of child soldiers, yet here it is openly teaching Congolese children to make war," said Des Forges. "When does it plan to start making good on these promises?" Congolese political leaders in the Ugandan-controlled region have detained rivals, held them in inhumane conditions, and sometimes tortured them. Ugandan soldiers have similarly abused Congolese whom they have identified as opponents. Ugandan authorities in mid-2000 approved an alliance between RCD-ML leader Mbusa Nyamwisi and Mai-Mai, a local militia hostile to foreign occupiers, and even arranged to provide military training for them. Later, Ugandans rejected the arrangement and began fighting the Mai-Mai. In subsequent conflicts, Ugandan troops captured and summarily executed Mai-Mai combatants. They also attacked local people thought to have aided the Mai-Mai, killing civilians and laying waste their villages. Ugandan soldiers also backed the RCD-National, supposedly another rebel political movement but apparently really an operation to extract and market the rich mineral resources of the Bafwasende area.

"Ugandan soldiers have blatantly exploited Congolese wealth for their own benefit, and that of their superiors at home," said Des Forges. "In competing for control of Congo's phenomenal resources, the Ugandans as well as other parties to this war have committed countless atrocities against the Congolese population." Uganda has been withdrawing some of its troops from the front lines in the Congo, as required by the Lusaka Accords of July 1999. Local groups in the Ugandan-controlled areas have also pledged new efforts to resolve their conflicts peacefully.

"We welcome these promising signs of peace," said Des Forges, "but the people of this region are saying that the end of war is not enough. They ask for justice for the wrongs done them. Uganda must investigate the reported misconduct of its troops. The international community, generally silent about these abuses until now, must insist that Uganda does in fact require accountability from its soldiers in the Congo."