DR Congo + 2 more

DRC-Uganda: MPs question Ugandan army's presence in Bunia

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NAIROBI, 11 March (IRIN) - Growing dissent is emerging among Ugandan members of parliament over the continued presence and redeployment of the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the wake of fighting that erupted on Thursday in the city of Bunia, resulting in the ouster by the UPDF of the Union des patriotes congolais (UPC) rebel group.
Adonia Tiberondwa, head of political affairs for the opposition Uganda People's Congress (UPC), on Monday criticised the redeployment of the UPDF in the DRC without the approval of parliament, saying that such action was again exposing parliament and proving it a "toothless dog", according to the independent Monitor newspaper.

"UPC is expressing concern, because parliament is abdicating its responsibility by allowing the president to send the daughters and sons of Uganda to fight in other countries without permission of parliament as prescribed in the constitution," Tiberondwa was quoted as saying.

He added that Ugandan soldiers had died previously in wars in DRC, Sudan and Rwanda when their participation had not been sanctioned by parliament.

For his part, the Rukiga MP and vice-chairman of parliament's Public Accounts Committee, Jack Sabiiti, was more reserved in his critique, and called for dialogue among Uganda, Rwanda and DRC.

"Some of us, and Ugandans who believe in peace, believe there is something wrong with our foreign policy. We have lost a lot of resources, money, personnel, and equipment instead of dialoguing," The New Vision government-owned newspaper quoted Sabiiti as telling a news conference in his office at parliament on Monday.

"There is no way you can take our machinery, resources, people and throw them in another country without consensus," he added.

The dissent follows a public inquiry made last week by Ugandan MP Ben Wacha, who asked the government to clarify allegations that the UPDF had participated in massacres in Ituri District, of which Bunia is the principal city.

"I would like to know if Uganda's presence in the Congo is for massacring the Congolese," the paper quoted Wacha as asking during a debate in parliament on Wednesday.

It further quoted Wacha, who is also the chairman of the parliamentary committee on rules and privileges, as telling parliament that he had heard a BBC report on Wednesday in which a Congolese rebel leader was quoted as saying that the UPDF was behind the fighting that claimed "hundreds" of lives in Ituri.

The New Vision reported that the ministers of defence and foreign affairs were not in the House, so Wacha's question had not been answered.

Meanwhile, in a particularly surprising move on Tuesday, The New Vision published an editorial entitled "Pull out of Congo", in which the paper urged the UPDF to leave the DRC.

"If the Congolese cannot get their act together, Uganda cannot do it for them. Uganda should stick to its 31 March deadline for complete withdrawal from the Congo. If there is chaos in Congo thereafter, so be it," the editorial stated.

It also noted irony in the fact that for the last five years the UPDF had been under constant international criticism for supporting the Hema in their conflict with the Lendu - yet the UPC was "essentially a Hema outfit".

"The UPDF's presence in Congo is now a case of 'damned if you do, and damned if you don't'," it stated.

During a two-day summit between Presidents Joseph Kabila of the DRC and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda on held on 9 and 10 February in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to abiding by the Luanda accord of 6 September 2002, which provides for the total withdrawal of Ugandan troops from the DRC, and the normalisation of relations between Kinshasa and Kampala. An amendment to the Luanda accord was signed, allowing for a new timetable for the work of setting up the Ituri Pacification Commission (IPC).

Under the new timetable, the IPC was to have been established and operating by 17 February. It was to have concluded its work on 20 March, by which date Ugandan troops were to have completed their withdrawal from the DRC.

Speaking to IRIN on Friday, the UPDF spokesman, Maj Shaban Bantariza said establishing the IPC was a prerequisite for a Ugandan withdrawal from the DRC.

"We are doing what we can to see the IPC [Ituri Pacification Commission] is put in place as per the Luanda accord signed by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and DRC President Joseph Kabila, so that we can withdraw from the Congo," he said.

[ENDS]

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