DR Congo + 2 more

DRC-Uganda: UPDF claims 'foreign force' backed UPC in Bunia

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KAMPALA, 11 March (IRIN) - Days after the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) ousted the Union des patriotes congolais (UPC) rebel group from the city of Bunia in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UPDF spokesman, Maj Shaban Bantariza, has alleged that a "foreign force" was fighting alongside the UPC.
"It is true that there was a foreign force fighting against our troops in the eastern town of Bunia when they attacked our forces, but I cannot name the force," Bantariza told IRIN on Monday.

"This force, of course, has not been on good terms with us for some time now, but at least we managed to repulse them all, together with the rebels," he added.

Although it has been widely alleged that elements of the Rwandan military were present in the region, Ugandan government officials have refused to name Rwanda as the "foreign force".

Rwanda has repeatedly asserted that it had withdrawn all of its forces from the DRC by late 2002.

Meanwhile, a variety of diplomatic efforts were reportedly under way to defuse tension between erstwhile allies Rwanda and Uganda.

On Saturday, the ambassadors to the DRC of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, UK, and USA), as well as those of Belgium and South Africa, asked Rwanda not to get involved in Bunia, and requested that Uganda withdraw its forces.

"We are insisting that Rwandan forces do not involve themselves in this conflict," Aubrey Hooks, the US ambassador to the DRC, told Radio Okapi following a meeting among the diplomats.

With a view to finding a global solution for the troubled region, the seven ambassadors also said they would undertake to improve relations between Uganda and neighbouring Rwanda.

"They are going to do whatever possible to encourage Uganda and Rwanda to enter into dialogue and to resolve their differences through mediation by the UK," Amos Namanga Ngongi, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to the DRC, who attended the ambassadors' meeting, said on Saturday.

On Monday, the EastAfrican, a weekly newspaper, reported that a crisis meeting between presidents Joseph Kabila of the DRC and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda was planned as a follow-up to two others - one held in London and the other in Gaborone - under the moderation of British International Development Minister Clare Short.

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 rebel movement, committing the two parties to "cooperate and support each other mutually in the domains of politics, military, and economy".

An improvement in relations appeared possible when, on 1 March, negotiations between Lubanga, and Brig Kale Kaihura, the chief political commissar of the UPDF, resulted in the signing of an accord under which the UPDF would withdraw from positions it had held within Bunia, and remain camped at the city's airport.

Now, in anticipation of further hostilities, the UPDF has been reinforcing its presence in Bunia.

"We shall continue deploying to ensure that we safeguard our other troops against another attack that could be planned. We shall also continue being in control of Bunia until the Ituri pacification team has met and resolved the issues currently existing in the region," Bantariza said.

He was referring to the Ituri Pacification Commission that was mandated by a 6 September 2002 agreement signed in Luanda, Angola, by Kabila and Museveni.

On Sunday, UPDF Lt-Gen David Tinyefuza headed to Bunia to command the Ugandan forces in the event of any attack. UPC's Lubanga has vowed to retake the city.

[ENDS]

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