UN revises DRC massacre death toll downwards

9th April 2003

A massacre of civilians in Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) Ituri region is believed to have claimed "between 150 and 300 lives", an official in the UN observer mission in DRC said Wednesday, revising an earlier toll sharply downward.

Based on "witness reports", the United Nations had on Sunday put the death toll in last Thursday's massacre, which took place over three hours in about 15 villages in the parish of Drodro, at "at least 1,000".

On Wednesday, UN special envoy to the DRC and the second highest ranking official in the United Nations MONUC mission, Berhooz Sadry, said on UN-run Radio Okapi that it was now believed "some 300 people have been killed." It was Sadry who had announced Sunday that "966 people, most of them ethnic Hemas in the village of Drodro in Ituri, had been killed by attackers" believed to belong to the rival Lendu ethnic group.

Sunday's death toll had been based on lists compiled by local leaders, MONUC said.

"The other people included in the earlier toll were injured, some very seriously, in machete attacks," he said on Wednesday, adding that "a MONUC inquiry is continuing." MONUC had early this week sent medical equipment to Drodro to help treat people injured in the attack, and announced at the same time that it was to "open an inquiry to identify the attackers," the mission's spokesman Hamadoun Toure told AFP.

Ugandan officers had, before the UN report was issued Sunday, said between 350 and 400 members of the Hema ethnic community had been killed in the region in attacks by members of the Lendu ethnic group.

The head of the rebel Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), Thomas Lubanga, confirmed the massacres and said more than 900 people had died.

A precise death toll in the violence is unlikely to be known until after bodies that have been dumped into makeshift graves in Drodro are exhumed.

Inter-ethnic violence stemming from land disputes has long been common in Ituri which borders on Uganda and is rich in gold, uranium and possible oil deposits.

It has been exacerbated since the start of the war in DRC in 1998, as constantly changing rebel administrations have undermined the capacity of local chiefs to settle such disputes.

The latest massacre in the region came one day after the signing of an accord to end over four years of war in the vast Central African country.

United Nations humanitarian news service, IRIN, in a special report published in December 2002 on Ituri said a "war-within-a-war began in the region in 1999" and that up to 50,000 people "may have been killed" in the northeastern DRC powderkeg since then - Sapa-AFP