DR Congo + 1 more

DRC: Rebel group signs accord with Ugandan army

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KINSHASA, 3 March (IRIN) - In an effort to defuse rising tensions between them, the Union des patriotes congolais (UPC) rebel movement based in the northeastern city of Bunia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) signed an accord on Sunday with the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF), following negotiations between the UPC leader, Thomas Lubanga, and Brig Kale Kaihura, the chief political commissar of the UPDF.
The accord follows the assassination - either late Friday or early Saturday - of two UPC soldiers in Bunia, allegedly by members of the UPDF.

Media reports indicated that the UPC had taken Kaihura hostage in retaliation. However, this could not be confirmed with either the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, or Ugandan authorities.

Although Lubanga had told reporters that Kaihura had been taken hostage following the assassinations, another UPC official denied this. "No, Gen Kaihura was not taken hostage. He was simply holding a meeting with our chief after the increased tension that followed the assassination of two of our soldiers by the UPDF," Jean de Dieu Tinanzabo, the head of the peace and reconciliation for the UPC, told IRIN.

"We can neither confirm nor deny that Kaihura was taken hostage, but we do know that the two parties arrived at an accord yesterday under which the UPDF agreed to withdraw at once from the immediate area around the residence of Thomas Lubanga, and to open an investigation into the assassination of the two UPC soldiers," Hamadoun Toure, the MONUC spokesman, said on Monday.

Tinanzabo and Toure reported that the UPDF had agreed to withdraw from positions it had held within Bunia, and to remain camped at the city's airport.

Accused by MONUC of blocking the establishment of the Ituri Pacification Commission (IPC), the UPC had hoped to convene a preparatory meeting for the IPC on Monday with MONUC and Uganda. However, with this latest round of tension, it was postponed.

"This meeting could not take place because of tension prevailing in the region, but also because other parties to the Luanda accord were not available," Toure said. He was referring to an accord signed in the Angolan capital, Luanda, on 6 September 2002 between DRC President Joseph Kabila and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni providing for the withdrawal of Ugandan troops from eastern DRC and a normalisation of relations between the two countries.

Furthermore, the signing of a ceasefire for the Ituri District that was to have taken place on 10 March has also been postponed.

"This is all a bunch of stalling tactics by the Kinshasa government... Kinshasa is breathing hot and cold by supporting groups like the FIPI [Front pour l'integration et la pacification de l'Ituri - a rival militia of the UPC, led by Kawa Mandro Panga, a former defence minister of the UPC]," Tinanzabo said.

Tension between the UPC and Uganda, its original supporter, began in late 2002 when the rebel militia demanded the immediate withdrawal of all remaining Ugandan troops from the DRC. The situation took a precipitous turn for the worse when, on 6 January, the UPC formed an alliance with the Rwandan-backed Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie-Goma (RCD-Goma) rebel movement, committing the two parties to "cooperate and support each other mutually in the domains of politics, military, and economy".

Although tensions were reported to have eased between the UPC and UPDF since the Sunday accord, MONUC reported that new fighting had erupted some 15 km outside Bunia, this time between the UPC and the RCD-Kisangani/Mouvement de liberation, a rebel faction that has been allied with the Kinshasa government since April 2002.

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