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In the northeastern Congo, Uganda has played the role of both arsonist and fireman with disastrous consequences for the local population. In their involvement in continuing political feuds among Congolese party leaders, in local ethnic conflicts, and in extracting wealth, Ugandan actors have furthered their own interests at the expense of Congolese whose territory they are occupying.

Uganda is just one of the foreign actors in the war that started in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in August 1998. The conflict today pits the Congolese government, supported by troops from Angola, Zimbabwe, and Namibia, against rebels backed by the governments of Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. The belligerents signed a peace agreement at the Zambian capital Lusaka in July and August 1999. The failure of the parties to the conflict to implement their commitments under the agreement hindered the United Nations plans to fully deploy peacekeepers called for under its provisions. The war has directly or indirectly caused the death of more than a million Congolese, caused another 1.6 million to become internally displaced, and pushed nearly half a million to seek asylum in neighboring countries.

Stalemate in the war and lack of progress in the peace process led to a de facto partition of the country under four regimes, each depending on foreign troops for its survival. The government is entrenched in the western half of the country, although its longstanding reliance on foreign allies became pronounced following the assassination in mid- January 2001 of President Laurent Kabila and his replacement by his son Joseph Kabila. One rebel group, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (Mouvement pour la Libération du Congo, MLC), headed by Jean-Pierre Bemba, controls much of Equateur province in the north. By early 2001, it had established its sway over another, less well organized rebel group, the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Liberation Movement (Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie-Mouvement de Libération (RCD-ML), which claimed to control parts of North Kivu, and Orientale provinces in eastern Congo. This merger brought together several of the RCD-ML leaders and created the Front for the Liberation of the Congo (Front pour la Libération du Congo (FLC). Wamba dia Wamba, however, one of the first leaders of the rebel movement and founder of the RCD-ML, continued to oppose this merger, but with little apparent success. A third rebel group, the main part of the RCD, now known as RCD-Goma, controls parts of North Kivu, South Kivu, Maniema, Orientale, and Katanga provinces in the east and southeast.

Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi claim that their troops are in the DRC to protect their national security, especially to contain and eliminate insurgent groups that use the eastern Congo as a base from which to attack their governments. The Ugandans backed both the MLC and the RCD-ML until they engineered the establishment of the FLC, now their favored Congolese client. The Rwandans back the RCD-Goma. Burundian troops also operate in the southern part of the RCD-Goma zone but play less of a role in the political and military decisions of the Congolese rebel groups than do Rwanda and Uganda.

In addition to the virtual partition of the country, the war has produced further divisions within the zones dominated by Uganda and Rwanda. Local leaders, seeking gain for their political parties or for themselves personally, have manipulated ethnic loyalties and have exploited external support to carve out their own areas of influence. The interaction between local leaders and actors in the broader war has exacerbated local ethnic tensions and created a volatile mix of inter-ethnic conflict that continues to have devastating consequences both in terms of violations of human rights and general suffering for the civilian population. Within the context of the broader war and the continuing political conflicts, a small-scale dispute over land between Hema and Lendu peoples in northeastern DRC, one of many which previously appeared to have been settled peacefully, grew in scale and intensity. The Hema were thought to enjoy general support from the Ugandans, attributed to a supposed ethnic bond between the Hema of the DRC and those of Uganda. From the first violence in June 1999 through early 2000, an estimated 7,000 persons were killed and another 150,000 were displaced. In the most recent incident of violence in January 2001, another 400 people were killed during one day of violence in Bunia and at least 30,000 people were forced to flee the region.

The war and related administrative confusion has permitted the unhindered exploitation of local resources by those backed by armed force, through the export of minerals or through taxes on commerce, largely to the benefit of Rwandan and Ugandan officers and civilians, in both official and private capacities.

In December 2000 Human Rights Watch undertook an investigative mission to an area controlled by Uganda in northeastern Congo, a region which straddles the territories of Beni and Lubero in North Kivu and the district of Ituri in Orientale Province, adjacent to the border between Uganda and Congo. This report is based on that mission and other research and covers the period from June 1999 through early March 2001.

    This research led to the following conclusions:

    · Ugandan military forces have played a decisive role in local affairs, even changing administrative boundaries and designating provincial officials, taking advantage of an administrative void resulting from continuing disputes among the various offshoots of the Ugandan-sponsored RCD-ML.

    · The perception that Ugandans supported the Hema was made real in many communities by Ugandan soldiers who helped Hema in defending their large farms against Lendu attack and who helped Hema militia attack Lendu villages. In some cases, these soldiers provided support in return for payments to themselves or their superior officers.

      In at least one case, Ugandan soldiers also assisted Lendu in attacking Hema. In one reported clash Ugandan soldiers backing different sides engaged in combat against each other.

The assistance of Ugandan soldiers as well as the provision of training and arms to local forces resulted in a larger number of civilian casualties in these conflicts than would otherwise have been the case.

    · Under the guise of creating an army for the rebel movement, Congolese political leaders developed their own groups of armed supporters, bound to them by ties of personal and/or ethnic loyalty. On several occasions in the last two years, these armed supporters have engaged in operations in which civilians were killed.

Uganda trained these groups even when it seemed likely that they would be used in local ethnic and partisan conflict rather than as part of a disciplined military force.

    · All parties, including the Ugandans, recruited and trained children to serve as soldiers.1 In August 2000 Uganda transported some 163 children, part of a larger group of 700 recruits, to Uganda for military training. Only in February 2001 did the government of Uganda grant various international agencies access to these children with a view to their demobilization and resettlement.

    · Contending RCD-ML political leaders Wamba dia Wamba and Mbusa Nyamwisi as well as Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) soldiers have illegally detained political leaders whom they have identified as opponents and held them under inhumane conditions. In some cases the UPDF and RCD-ML forces have tortured political opponents in detention.

    · The RCD-ML's "prime minister" Mbusa Nyamwisi, a local leader from a third powerful ethnic group, the Nande, sought to increase his power base by allying with Mai-Mai forces, groups of local militia who fight largely to expel foreign occupiers of their territory and who often use traditional rituals to strengthen themselves for battle.

      Originally ready to tolerate this alliance, the Ugandans then rejected it. In subsequent conflicts with the Mai-Mai, Ugandan forces as well as Congolese rebels loyal to Mbusa extrajudicially executed captured Mai-Mai combatants. Subsequently, the UPDF attacked local people thought to have assisted the Mai-Mai, killing civilians and laying waste to their villages.

    · Ugandan soldiers also formed and supported the front organization called RCD-National, which appeared to be an operation to extract and market the rich mineral resources of the Bafwasende area rather than the political party which it claimed to be. This blatant exploitation of Congolese wealth for the benefit of both locally based and other more highly placed Ugandan military officers symbolized the larger exploitation of the whole region for the benefit of outside actors.

1 In this report, the word "child" refers to anyone under the age of eighteen. Human Rights Watch follows the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in defining as a child "every human being under the age of eighteen unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is obtained earlier." Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 1, G.A. Res.44/25, U.N. Doc. A/RES/44/25.

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