DR Congo

DRC: Tension rife between UPDF and UPC in Bunia

News and Press Release
Originally published
NAIROBI, 30 January (IRIN) - Tension is reported to be mounting in the northeastern city of Bunia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) following intelligence reports that Thomas Lubanga's rebel Union des patriotes congolais (UPC) was planning an assault on Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) positions there, according to The New Vision Ugandan government-owned newspaper.
However, the UPC countered that the Ugandans had been steadily reinforcing their troops in Bunia, about 50 km from the Ugandan border, digging trenches around Bunia airport and setting up checkpoints on all the roads leading in and out of the city, The New Vision cited military officials in Bunia and Kampala as saying on Wednesday.

Patricia Tome, the head of public information for the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), told IRIN on Tuesday that the mission was maintaining close contact with both sides. She added that no fighting had taken place between the UPDF and UPC.

The UPDF spokesman, Maj Shaban Bantariza, who is also the military assistant to Defence Minister Amama Mbabazi, blamed the current standoff on the UPC.

"The problem is because of UPC. They should not expect us not to prepare or to be attacked without retaliating. If they come they will bleed," Bantariza was quoted by The New Vision as saying.

He added that he had not received confirmation that civilians had begun fleeing the town in fear of a clash between the UPDF and the rebels.

Military sources said that in addition to digging trenches around the airport, which had begun last week, the UPDF had set up roadblocks on Bunia-Mongwallo, Nyankunde and Mahagi Port roads to stave off a possible infiltration of armed rebels into the city.

The New Vision reported that the latest tension followed assertions by the UPDF that the People's Redemption Army of renegade UPDF officers Col Samson Mande and Lt-Col Anthony Kyakabale had stepped up their activities in Bunia and the neighbouring areas.

On 6 January, the Rwandan-backed Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie rebel movement signed an agreement on "military, political and economic" programmes with the UPC.

On 23 January, Maj-Gen Salim Saleh of Uganda headed a mission to Bunia to meet with UPC officials. Radio Candip, a UPC-controlled radio, reported that talks had centred on the possibility of restoring the alliance between the movement and Uganda. But in a statement issued the same day, according to The New Vision, UPC members insisted that the UPDF withdraw, saying it was a source of instability.


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