DR Congo

DRC: 2003 chronology of events

News and Press Release
Originally published
NAIROBI, 5 January (IRIN) - A selected chronology of events in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during 2003.
6 January: Rwandan-backed Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD-Goma) rebel movement forms alliance with the Bunia-based Union des patriotes congolais pour la reconciliation et la paix (UPC-RP) of Thomas Lubanga in Ituri District, northeastern DRC. The agreement commits the two parties to "cooperate and support each other mutually in the domains of politics, military, and economy".

7 January: Monsignor Melchisedec Sikulu Paluku, the bishop of Beni-Butembo in northeastern DRC, accuses the Mouvement pour la liberation du Congo (MLC), headed by Jean-Pierre Bemba, and the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie-National (RCD-N), led by Roger Lumbala, of cannibalism.

7 January: Government launches its national diamond certification programme as part of its participation in the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which took effect on 1 January 2003.

8 January: The UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, announces that it has opened investigations into reports of cannibalism and human rights violations by rebels near the northeastern town of Beni, North Kivu Province.

15 January: MONUC confirms that rebel groups in the northeast of the country have engaged in acts of cannibalism.

15 January: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello demands that sanctions be imposed on members of rebel groups that have engaged in cannibalism in northeastern DRC.

16 January: Government asks UN Security Council to establish a UN criminal court to try rebel groups accused of committing atrocities, including genocide, in the northeast of the country.

17 January: One killed, five wounded as Red Cross vehicle is ambushed by unidentified assailants near Uvira, eastern DRC.

21 January: DRC Health Minister Mashako Mamba reports that "more than" 2,000 people have died as the result of an influenza epidemic that has been sweeping across parts of the country for one-and-a-half months. Affected areas are Thuapa, in the south of Equateur Province, and Inongo, near Lake Mai-Ndombe, in the north of Bandundu Province.

23 January: The first round of a massive measles vaccination campaign is launched in Ituri, following reports in December 2002 of more than 300 measles cases, resulting in the deaths of 16 children.

24 January: In adopting resolution 1457, UN Security Council unanimously approves a new six-month mandate for the panel of experts investigating the illegal exploitation of natural resources and other forms of wealth in the DRC.

25 January: Indigenous people - commonly referred to as pygmies - from the Ituri District of Province Orientale in northeastern DRC demand that the Kinshasa government create a criminal tribunal to hold accountable those who have committed crimes against them, including murder and cannibalism.

27 January: Authorities in Kinshasa open a judicial inquiry into massacres and cannibalism alleged to have been perpetrated by the MLC and its ally, RCD-N, in Orientale Province.

27 January: A commercial cargo barge with 550 mt of goods arrives in Kisangani in northeastern DRC from the capital, Kinshasa, the first to do so after four years of suspended river traffic due to war.

30 January: EU parliament calls for concrete measures to punish persons found guilty of pillaging the resources of the DRC, including an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into "acts of genocide and crimes against humanity committed in Africa and elsewhere, where such acts were perpetrated to illegally secure natural resources, such as conflict diamonds and timber".

31 January: UN World Food Programme (WFP) begins an emergency operation to airlift food to some 115,000 people in the town of Bunia, northeastern DRC, who have been displaced by fighting.

2 February: Tornado sweeps through town of Yumbi, northwestern Bandundu Province in western DRC. About 17 dead, 4,000 injured, and at least 1,700 families rendered homeless.

4 February: RCD-Goma announces a general amnesty for Mayi-Mayi militias. "They will not be charged with any crime whatsoever. Rather, it is out of our hope for reconciliation and an end to hostilities that we are offering this amnesty," says RCD-Goma spokesman, Jean-Pierre Lola Kisanga.

10 February: DRC President Joseph Kabila and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni reaffirm their commitment to the Luanda accord of 6 September 2002 following a two-day summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The accord provides for the total withdrawal of Ugandan troops from the DRC and the normalisation of relations between Kinshasa and Kampala.

7 February: An estimated 8,000 Mayi-Mayi militiamen, accused of cannibalism, are disarmed in the Haut Lomami District of southern Katanga Province.

15 February: Kampala and Kinshasa agree in the Angolan capital, Luanda, on modalities for the implementation of the Ituri Pacification Commission and for the withdrawal of Ugandan military forces remaining in northeastern DRC.

17 February: UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appoints Behrooz Sadry as Deputy Special Representative for the DRC, in charge of operations and management of MONUC. He joins Deputy Special Representative Lena Sundh of Sweden, who is in charge of the political, humanitarian, human rights, and gender aspects of the mission.

18 February: Second round of a massive measles vaccination campaign is launched in Ituri.

20 February: After 18 months of work and 71 hearings, the Belgian Senate commission on the exploitation of natural resources in DRC concludes that no illegal acts were committed by the people and companies investigated. Opposition senators refuse to endorse the text, saying that the recommendations "without any content" are aimed at protecting "Belgian political and economic interests in the region".

22 February: RCD-Goma renews its call for an independent inquiry into the November 2002 killings in Ankoro, a village in the southeastern Katanga Province of the DRC. The killings were allegedly perpetrated by the Forces armees congolaises (FAC), the government army. Figures on dead and displaced vary greatly.

22 February: The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) launches a campaign to provide supplemental Vitamin A to some 12 million children aged six to 59 months nationwide. The Vitamin A the children will receive during this campaign will supplement an earlier dose received in July 2002 during National Immunisation Days (NIDs).

23 February: UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) launches a massive seeds and tools distribution programme aimed at 266,500 vulnerable households in 17 of the country's provinces.

24 February: All MONUC flights to Bunia are suspended after one of MONUC's helicopters is fired on.

27 February: A commission of inquiry consisting of members of human rights NGOs and the DRC Human Rights Ministry convenes in the city of Mbuji-Mayi, Kasai Oriental Province, to investigate the deaths of miners who died on 21 February under suspicious circumstances in the mines of the Miniere de Bakwanga (Miba), the national mining company.

2 March: In an effort to defuse rising tensions between them, the UPC rebel movement based in Bunia signs an accord with the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF).

5 March: A commission of inquiry comprising members of human rights NGOs and the DRC Human Rights Ministry report that nine illegal miners - not 25, as had been claimed by mining colleagues and human rights activists - died on 21 February in mines in the city of Mbuji-Mayi.

5 March: A 13-ship convoy carrying 626 mt of food aid from WFP arrives in Ankoro, Katanga Province, to benefit some 67,000 people who had been "in urgent need" of food aid since December 2002, according to World Vision International, the NGO responsible for distribution of the goods.

6 March: The UPDF and allied Lendu and Ngiti militiamen oust the UPC from Bunia.

6 March: Parties to the inter-Congolese dialogue agree to a programme for the drafting of a constitution and for a future unified army for a period of a national transitional government eventually leading to national democratic elections in the DRC, following 11 days of discussions held in Pretoria, South Africa.

18 March: Delegates of the Ugandan and DRC governments, different rebel groups, and ethnic militias operating in Ituri sign the Ituri Cessation of Hostilities Agreement in Bunia, under which the UPDF is to withdraw from the DRC on 24 April. The UPC, however, does not sign.

20 March: UN Security Council asks Secretary-General Kofi Annan to increase the presence of MONUC, especially in Ituri, where violence has escalated in the recent past. It also asks Annan to increase the number of personnel in MONUC's human rights component "to enhance the capacity of the Congolese parties to investigate all the serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights perpetrated on the territory of the country since the beginning of the conflict in 1998".

20 March: A preparatory technical committee for the establishment of the long-awaited Ituri Pacification Commission convenes its first meeting in Bunia as a result of the Ituri Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. Formation of the commission has been delayed several times by fighting between various rebel factions and militias.

29 March: RCD-Goma appoints to its ranks four former army officers who had been condemned to death the assassination of President Laurent-Desire Kabila, including Bora Uzima Kamwanya, Georges Mirindi, John Bahati and Amuri Chap Chap. DRC State Prosecutor Luhonge Kabinda Ngoy calls the nominations "an act of provocation".

1 April: In Sun City, South Africa, DRC government and rebel groups unanimously endorse a transitional constitution to govern DRC for two years. They also endorse the global agreement signed in Pretoria on 17 December 2002.

2 April: In Sun City, South Africa, DRC government, rebel movements, political opposition parties and representatives of civil society agree to set up a transitional government to oversee democratic elections after two years. DRC President Joseph Kabila to retain his post, supported by four vice-presidents from rebel groups and the civilian opposition.

3 April: Hundreds killed in Drodro massacre, Ituri District.

4 April: Ituri Pacification Commission is inaugurated in Bunia. The 177-member commission includes representatives of the DRC, Uganda and Angola governments, MONUC, civil society bodies, a business people's association, political and military parties to the conflict in Ituri, and 90 grassroots communities that form the largest block of the commission.

5 April: Kabila promulgates the new transitional constitution agreed at Sun City.

7 April: Kabila is sworn in as the interim head of state of the DRC, to preside over a transitional government to be formed for a two-year period, leading to democratic elections.

8 April: International Rescue Committee (IRC) reports that conflict in the DRC has cost more lives than any other since World War II: IRC estimates that at least 3.3 million Congolese died between August 1998, when the war began, and November 2002. Most deaths are attributed to easily treatable diseases and malnutrition, and were often linked to displacement and the collapse of the country's health services and economy.

13 April: Ituri Pacification Commission adopts a series of interim measures to end hostilities and provide a provisional administration in Ituri District.

16 April: At least 70 people were killed during fighting in November 2002 between government forces and Mayi-Mayi militia in Ankoro, in northern Katanga province, MONUC says in its report.

25 April: Government announces abolition of the Cour d'ordre militaire (COM - Military Order Court), which has been widely criticised by national and international human rights organisations as failing to meet international fair trial standards or allow appeals to a higher or independent jurisdiction.

3 May: Longtime opposition politician Arthur Z'Ahidi Ngoma is elected by a segment of the political opposition to serve as one of four vice-presidents of a two-year transitional government under President Joseph Kabila.

6 May: Azarias Ruberwa Manywa, RCD-Goma secretary-general, is named as his movement's candidate for the fourth and final vice-presidential post for a two-year national transition government, joining the three vice-presidential candidates already named: MLC leader Jean-Pierre Bemba; Abdoulaye Yerodia Ndombasi, a close ally of DRC President Joseph Kabila; and Arthur Z'ahidi Ngoma, a representative of the unarmed political opposition.

8 May: An aircraft carrying a government delegation sent to ease hostilities between ethnic militias in Ituri is hit by gunfire as it approaches Bunia airstrip, but manages to land safely in Entebbe, in neighbouring Uganda.

8 May: Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni hold talks in London - the fourth since tension between Rwanda and Uganda mounted after fighting two years earlier in Kisangani - aimed at easing tension between the two countries.

8 May: Air disaster when the rear doors of a cargo plane open shortly after takeoff from Kinshasa, sucking passengers to their death. The death toll is put somewhere between 60 and 170, but government spokesman Kikaya Bin Karubi says the toll "will never be known" because the passenger list was incomplete and survivors say the plane was overloaded.

10 May: Oxfam calls on UN to deploy a rapid reaction force to enforce peace in Bunia.

11 May: Two Red Cross volunteers - both wearing vests that clearly identified them as Red Cross personnel - are killed while carrying out humanitarian duties during fighting in Bunia. In April 2001, six International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) employees were murdered in the same region.

12 May: UPC takes control of Bunia after six days of fighting between rival ethnic militias.

14 May: Two UN military observers are confirmed to have been "savagely killed" in Mongbwalu, north of Bunia.

14 May: Ugandan government vows to take legal action against all individuals identified by the Ugandan Judicial Commission of Inquiry (JCI) as having been involved in the plunder of DRC's natural resources. However, it said it would ignore all other allegations made by a UN expert panel.

16 May: Following a week of heavy fighting, five armed groups that have been involved in battles around the town of Bunia signed an agreement in Dar es Salaam to cease hostilities and re-launch the beleaguered Ituri peace process.

21 May: Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International appeal to UN to authorise the deployment of a rapid reaction force to protect civilians in Ituri District, saying MONUC has been unable to protect civilians adequately.

22 May: RCD-Goma withdraws from discussions of the follow-up committee of the inter-Congolese dialogue, accusing the government of trying to keep the post of head of army for itself, and of wanting to control the majority of military regions.

25 May: Visiting Bunia, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guehenno, calls for firm and urgent UN intervention to stop further massacres.

29 May: Swearing-in of a transitional government is postponed because of an argument over the composition of the national army.

30 May: RCD-Goma announces it will rejoin negotiations leading to the formation of national transitional institutions in the DRC.

30 May: UN Security Council Resolution 1484 authorises deployment of an interim emergency multinational force in Bunia, until 1 September. France offers to lead the force, and will contribute 750 troops, with the remainder to come from other EU countries. Belgium, Britain, Portugal and Sweden indicate they will contribute to the EU component of the force.

31 May: Dozens of ethnic Hema civilians are killed and dozens others are reportedly abducted by ethnic Lendu militias in Tchomia, 45 km east of Bunia.

2 June: UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommends a one-year extension of MONUC's mandate, and calls for an increase in MONUC's authorised military strength from 8,700 to 10,800.

4 June: UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appoints two special envoys to help with the formation of a unified national army: Moustapha Niasse, who had served as Annan's special envoy for the DRC peace process, and Gen Maurice Baril of Canada, who had served as a military advisor to the UN.

6 June: An advance unit of French soldiers arrives in Bunia to prepare for the arrival of an estimated 1,400 multinational peace enforcement troops.

10 June: ICRC completes what it termed a "vast operation" to help some 35,000 civilians in Ankoro, northern Katanga Province, ravaged by fighting at the end of 2002.

11 June: EU Council agrees to deploy troops as part of the 1,500-strong multinational force, codenamed "Artemis", requested by UN Security Council Resolution 1484.

11 June: Rival opposition movements and the government assure a visiting UN Security Council delegation that they will form a transitional government by 30 June.

13 June: UN World Health Organisation (WHO) expresses concern over the spread of cholera in Kasai Oriental Province, central DRC, with a high risk of the epidemic spreading to the neighbouring province, Kasai Occidental. The most affected provinces are Sud Kivu, where 1,387 cases including 26 deaths had been reported; Katanga - 7,557 cases with 221 deaths, and Kasai Oriental, where 3,098 cases and 89 deaths had been reported.

16 June: Azarias Ruberwa is appointed leader of RCD-Goma, replacing Adolphe Onusumba Yemba, who had held the post since October 2000. Ruberwa, one of four vice president-designates of a national transitional government, had previously served as RCD-Goma secretary-general, also since October 2000. Ruberwa becomes the fourth head of the RCD-Goma movement after Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, Emile Ilunga Kalambo and Onusumba, who would be appointed to other functions within the movement.

16 June: President Joseph Kabila launches a nationwide campaign to promote the registration of births in the country, to coincide with the annual Day of the African Child.

19 June: RCD-Goma captures Lubero, North Kivu Province, as a ceasefire deal for the region is signed in Bujumbura among all parties to the conflict: RCD-Goma, the Kinshasa government and the RCD-Kisangani/Mouvement de liberation (RCD-K/ML) to which Kinshasa is allied.

19 June: Two UN military observers are abducted by unidentified assailants in Beni, North Kivu Province. They are released unharmed on 21 June.

25 June: Multinational force sets boundaries beyond which all armed militias must withdraw.

26 June: Former prime minister, Leon Kengo wa Dondo, is charged by a Brussels court with money laundering during the reign of late President Mobutu Sese Seko.

30 June: Kabila names his transitional government to lead the country out of nearly five years of war to democratic elections in 2005.

1 July: Amos Namanga Ngongi, Special Representative of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the DRC, completes his nearly two-year mandate, to be replaced by US diplomat William Lacy Swing.

6 July: MONUC announces that a 3,800-strong force will be deployed in Ituri District and other locations, to ensure the 1 September handover from the French-led multinational peace enforcement mission.

12 July: Uganda says it will reopen investigations into the murder of six employees of the ICRC that took place in April 2001 in Ituri District. At the time of the murders, Ituri was under the control of the Ugandan army.

15 July: EU high representative for the common foreign and security policy, Javier Solana, calls on UN Security Council to authorise a stronger mandate for MONUC similar to that of the EU-led multinational peace enforcement mission deployed to Bunia.

16 July: First elements of a planned 3,800-strong UN peacekeeping task force for Ituri District arrive in Bunia.

16 July: The ICC selects Ituri District as "the most urgent situation" under its jurisdiction to be addressed.

17 July: The four vice-presidents of the DRC's two-year transitional government take the oath of office in Kinshasa.

18 July: Transitional government officials designated by the DRC's two principal former rebel movements - RCD-Goma and the MLC - refuse to take the oath of office because it included swearing allegiance to President Joseph Kabila.

21 July: The mutilated bodies of 22 civilians, primarily women and children, are discovered by a patrol of the EU-led multinational force in Nizi, a village 22 km north of Bunia.

23 July: Rival ethnic militias in Ituri agree to disarm, withdraw to rear bases and to participate in joint verification exercises.

24 July: 11 Congolese civilians murdered near the town of Baraka in southeastern South Kivu Province, allegedly by fighters belonging to an alliance of the Forces pour la defense de la democratie (FDD), a rebel group from neighbouring Burundi; Rwandan former military (ex-FAR); and Congolese Mayi-Mayi militias in the area.

24 July: RCD-Goma and MLC transitional government officials take their oath of office in Kinshasa, after a modification is made in the pledge of allegiance.

25 July: During its first meeting, the newly-inaugurated ministers of the transitional government resolve to make resolution of the conflict in Ituri District a major priority, with a consultative committee to be sent to the area imminently.

25 July: An estimated 7.3 million children under five years old to be vaccinated against polio in some 200 health zones in the provinces of Bandundu, Bas-Congo, Equateur, Kasai Oriental and Occidental, Katanga, Maniema, North and South Kivu.

28 July: UN Security Council unanimously adopts resolution giving MONUC a stronger mandate and increasing its authorised strength from 8,700 to 10,800 troops. The council also extends the mission's mandate for another year, until 30 July 2004, and institutes a 12-month arms embargo against foreign and Congolese armed groups in the east of the country.

28 July: Under the IMF and World Bank's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, DRC's total external debt is due to be reduced by about 80 percent - approximately US $10 billion in nominal terms (or US $6.3 billion in net present value terms).

30 July: Six people - five men of Lendu ethnicity, and one woman of Nande ethnicity - are stoned to death by angry residents of Bunia.

1 August: RCD-Goma says it is willing to make concessions regarding the partition of responsibilities for newly-created military regions.

3 August: First commercial river convoy of eight barges reaches Kisangani from Kinshasa since the installation of a national transition government on 30 June.

6 August: Former belligerent parties reach agreement on the division of military zones, which will enable Kabila to name the chief of staff of the unified national army as well as other leaders of the military forces.

18 August: Controversy over military leader nominees resolved as RCD-Goma submits a revised list of candidates for top military posts; the previous list of candidates proposed by RCD-Goma provoked an outcry from Kabila and other members of the former Kinshasa government, as well as from the International Committee to Accompany the Transition (known by its French acronym CIAT) because of its inclusion of individuals suspected of involvement in the assassination of late president Laurent-Desire Kabila, Joseph's father, on 16 January 2001.

19 August: Kabila names officers to lead the nation's unified national military, incorporating elements from all former armed rebel groups signatory to a national power-sharing accord, as well as Mayi-Mayi militias.

22 August: In a memorandum of understanding signed at the end of talks in Kinshasa, Ituri militias agree to work with the newly-inaugurated transitional government in restoring state authority across the region.

22 August: The National Assembly and Senate of DRC's two-year transitional government are opened by President Joseph Kabila and his four vice-presidents.

24 August: Burundian rebels of the Forces nationales de liberation (FNL) allegedly kill at least a dozen people - mainly women and children - in Rusabagi, 85 km south of Bukavu in South Kivu Province.

26 August: Human rights activists criticise the appointment of military officials alleged to have been involved in massacres in Kisangani during hostilities that erupted in May 2002, including Gabriel Amisi (alias "Tango Fort") and Laurent Nkunda, both from the RCD-Goma former rebel movement.

26 August: Under Resolution 1501, UN Security Council authorises the EU-led multinational peace enforcement mission in Bunia to provide assistance to MONUC, as the former withdraws and the latter is reinforced and deployed in and around Bunia.

28 August: Kabila submits a written declaration of his wealth to parliament, in accordance with the national transition constitution that came out of the inter-Congolese peace and reconciliation dialogue.

28 August: New WWF census finds a 95-percent decline in the hippopotamus population in Virunga National Park, on the eastern border of the DRC, once home to the world's largest hippo population.

31 August: A failed mutiny takes place in Kisangani, Orientale Province.

31 August: UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the DRC, Iulia Motoc, says there are indications that genocide may have occurred in Ituri.

1 September: The French-led multinational force in Bunia hands over security duties to MONUC.

1 September: Installation of leaders of DRC's unified national military is postponed. Although no official reason is given, military sources says that some officers from the RCD-Goma former rebel movement, now party to a power-sharing national transitional government, have not yet arrived in Kinshasa.

5 September: The leadership of a newly unified national military is inaugurated in Kinshasa, although some debate remains as to what the new force will be called.

9 September: DRC military chief of staff Lt-Gen Liwanga Mata Nyamunyobo summons three officers of the RCD-Goma - Brig-Gen Laurent Nkunda, colonels Elie Gichondo and Erick Ruhorimbere, who had been named commander and deputy commanders, respectively, of three of the country's 10 military regions - to appear before the Military High Court (Haute Cour Militaire) for having refused to take part in the inauguration of the newly-unified national army.

9 September: Mayi-Mayi militias and soldiers of RCD-Goma begin reconciliation effor