We speak with Sinafasi Makelo, a representive of the Mbuti people with the organization Support Action for the Protection of the Rights of Minorities in Central Africa — DRC.
The United Nations has asked France to lead a peacekeeping force in the mineral-rich Ituri region of Congo, amid reports of growing atrocities in fighting between rival factions there. The UN has also asked Britain to join the force.
A few days ago, aid workers reported finding the bodies of more than 200 people killed on the streets of the provincial capital Bunia, including women and children. Some of them were decapitated and the hearts, livers and lungs were missing in others. Two U.N. aid workers were also killed this week.
Rival factions are engaged in a bloody civil war, and they are backed by the neighboring states of Uganda and Rwanda. While much of the world’s attention has been focused on elsewhere, millions of people have died in the war. Between 1998 and 2000, the International Rescue Committee estimates that close to 3 million people lost their lives to war, starvation and disease in the country.
Numerous countries have been involved in the civil war, all of them vying for a piece of the nation’s natural resources. At one stage six African nations had troops in the Congo, plundering the country’s resources of diamonds, gold and oil and lending support to rival factions.
The Ituri region is also rich in resources. Apart from the region’s farmland and valuable cross-border trade, Ituri is the gateway to the Kilo Moto gold field, the world’s largest. A Candian company, Barrick Gold, claims it owns the exploration rights to the gold mine. Former President George Bush Sr. serves as senior advisor to Barrick Gold’s board of directors. Interest is also rising in Ituri’s oil reserves in the Lake Albert basin. The company Heritage Oil signed a licensing deal last year. It is part-owned by British entrepreneur Tony Buckingham.
The fighting in the Ituri region is between the Lendu and the Hema factions. But many of the civilians whose bodies have been mutilated were not members of either group. They were peaceful Mbuti people.
We’re joined right now by Sinafasi Makelo, who is a Mbuti spokesman. He is in New York to demand the United Nations prosecute government and rebel fighters.
- Sinafasi Makelo, a representive of the Mbuti people with the organization Support Action for the Protection of the Rights of Minorities in Central Africa — DRC. He is also on the board of directors for Land is Life. He is forming an alliance of communities and is trying to organize a conference on the violence against the Mbuti in the Congo in December. The Mbuti people are also known as pygmies.
- Tshimanga John Metzel, country conditions expert with Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, and also works with the Congo Educational Council.