Leader of the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie - Mouvement de liberation (RCD-ML), Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, was interviewed at his residence in Bunia, Ituri District for IRIN on 15 February. Below are extracts from the conversation.
Q: Has the RCD-ML managed to establish security in Ituri province?
WAMBA: Security is never established as an event, it is a process. By the end of December, conflict seemed to have finished, then in January it resumed. Now over the last three weeks the situation seems more or less calm in terms of killings. We feel a little bit confident. Soldiers have
been brought in, and we have trained policemen who we will provide with weapons, so that they are in a position to deal with these problems, especially the armed robberies. We are hoping that with the Ugandan soldiers in Djugu area - and the few Congolese soldiers with them - there will be less activities relating to killings and counter-killings. In the
meantime we are trying to work on the politics so the sentiments, which are very high, can calm down. It is the intellectual category who is often steering the problem, so we are trying to handle that by putting emphasis on facts - not "who's right and who's wrong". Being right or wrong doesn't
give anyone the right to kill. We need to stop that.
We know the circumstances of the conflict were inequalities over access to land, increased poverty and the absence of state structures. The area is also a zone of high mineral activities which brings a sense of insecurity, with people feeling others want to get to the wealth.
Q: Has there been a "genocide"?
WAMBA: Since the Rwanda genocide this word has been used too quickly; it is used even if a few get killed and there is no reason easily and openly found. We must look at how the events proceeded. The first killings of people in the concessions were the killings of the owners of the concessions. It's not really genocide per se. Now, each group is attributing "genocide" to the other.
We don't condone these massacres, of course. But major genocides have had something to do with the state, organised discrimination. But in this case it is more like a lack of state, and inability to keep law and order, which has increased the inequalities.
In this case, also, there is an inequality of means. So here we have people who have more means and people who have meagre means, using the word genocide. We can't minimise that there have been killings, certainly, but we can't jump and say its like Rwanda.
Q: How many have been killed?
WAMBA: Well, numbers are estimates. If we calculate from the reporting from the villages... probably around 4,000 from the beginning. We feel very bad that sort of thing happens. Hopefully it's now calm.
Q: Has ethnic extremism taken advantage of an absence of authority?
WAMBA: Did extremism come first or after? That's the question. It probably came after. Some of the ideas are so wild in this conflict you wonder if its imagination or if they've been thinking of it a long time. I don't think it's extremists [who started it]. Differences in themselves never lead to conflict but transform into discrimination, which eventually
become conflict. With the state, that's easy, but where there is no state then gross inequalities in wealth and poverty need a trigger. It may be a change of modality in access to land; maybe a new governorship - like Lotsove - or it could be a past event. We are trying to look and balance the facts and not jump on to one side or another.
Q: Isn't it irresponsible to encourage people to return to destroyed villages when they are still being met by attackers?
WAMBA: It won't be easy to get mechanisms in place before the people return, but it is a sign of confidence-building to get people in the bush to come back to their villages. Even if there is a problem of food, of medecine or a place to stay - well, it is much worse when people carry on believing there is still insecurity and they are under attack. When they
are allowed to come back there is a sense that it has cooled down. It is a way for us to know if a change of sentiment has taken place.
Q: RCD relies heavily on Ugandan troops now. How would you describe Uganda's role?
WAMBA: This area is contiguous with Uganda and Sudan. There are armed opposition groups against Uganda that have been helped by Sudan. This space has been used in the conflict and security in this area is an issue for Uganda, especially in Beni and Butembo area. In that sense Uganda has a certain involvement.
When you have a neighbour in real serious trouble and your borders are being used by armed opposition, then help on both accounts is a matter of urgency. Uganda is here in both capacities.
First, it is here because of its own security - because we don't have security to prevent armed groups crossing our borders. But secondly it is here to help us train and develop our own security capacity, and to train political cadres.
The Mobutu regime was a very destructive experience. The state collapsed - there was no real national army, just fragments of army who were harassing and fighting and looting. We are struggling against a new Mobutu. We are trying to build a disciplined army and institutions and be in a position
to defend. We value what Uganda can do.
Q: What about allegations of the Ugandan army following its own agenda, stealing your resources, importing its own corruption and excesses?
WAMBA: We are in a war situation. Even in your own country, directives are one thing, behaviour is another. A few beers, a few mistakes - it always happens on an individual level but it is always perceived as "the army". It's not. Mistakes are dealt with by Uganda. It is unfortunate if lives of people are involved - but when we have evidence and we tell the
authorities what has happened, changes take place. For example, we now have a new boss, Commander Arucha. The other was removed.