- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 18, 2003

BUNIA, Congo — A nasty civil war in Congo has given the world a new euphemism for mass murder: Alongside “ethnic cleansing” in the former Yugoslavia, there is now “nettoyage” — French for “cleaning.”

“That’s what happens when they try to exterminate people,” said Claude Kabeya, 41, as he cowered for protection behind a broken window inside the tiny Bunia airport that is now a bustling United Nations base.

Yesterday, a measure of calm had settled on this dusty gold-trading town two days after the belligerents signed a cease-fire in Tanzania. U.N. workers were hoping to restore power and repair water-purification facilities to avert a cholera outbreak. Several cases of the disease have already been detected. But Bunia remains a scene of barely contained chaos.

About 700 Uruguayan soldiers in blue U.N. helmets are hustling to protect more than 12,000 people displaced by the fighting.

Another 100,000 or more have fled to Uganda, leaving Bunia a playground for militiamen who roam its unpaved streets waving Kalashnikov assault rifles. Only U.N. armored personnel carriers and humanitarian vehicles venture outside the coils of barbed wire that ring the few official installations.

In the past week, dozens have died of gunshots or machete wounds as rival ethnic militias have vied for control of Bunia. Residents say the gunmen went from house to house, arbitrarily killing — “cleaning” in their parlance — whomever they chose.

Human rights groups, and even the U.N. chief war crimes prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, have begun to speak of a “possible genocide” in Congo’s northeastern Ituri region surrounding Bunia, drawing parallels to the 1994 slaughter of nearly 1 million people in Rwanda.

Diplomats strongly suspect that two regional powers involved in that conflict, Uganda and Rwanda, are fanning the flames as they exploit Ituru’s natural resources — primarily gold but also oil.

The Ugandan army was deployed in Bunia for months until it pulled out early this month, warning of a power vacuum. Observers believe Uganda also supplied weapons to Lendu militiamen, ensuring that its prophecy became reality.

The Lendu militias raged through Bunia for days, at one point attacking the blue-and-white painted U.N. compound.

The minority retook the town a few days later led by the Union of Congolese Patriots, a small Hema-dominated rebel faction allied with the Rally for Congolese Democracy — which is supported by Rwanda.

At every step, Hema killed Hema suspected of collaborating with the other side, while Lendu did the same.

The violence is the greatest challenge yet to a 6-month-old peace process for Congo.

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