(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Uganda denies leaving behind weaponry in Bunia

[DRC] - Ugandan soldiers parade in flambouyant exit ceremony Ituri District, Orientale Province, eastern DRC, 25/04/03 Bunia

Departing Ugandan troops left behind weapons which were seized by militias fighting in Bunia, the principal town of Ituri district in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the UN said on Wednesday. Uganda has strongly denied the claim.

Amos Namanga Ngongi, special representative of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the DRC, said that Ugandan officers had left behind military materiel. "On the ground, various armed groups have confirmed it," he told reporters.

Mountaga Diallo, the commander of the UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, said that the armed groups had heavy weaponry and anti-aircraft guns.

The spokesman for the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF), Maj Shaban Bantariza, strongly denied that Uganda had left behind any heavy weapons.

"We left behind not even a bullet," Bantariza told IRIN on Thursday. "How can we leave anything behind when we need more heavy weapons ourselves. Would we leave them with passers-by? No way," he said.

Bantariza claimed that the rebel Hema group, the Union des patriotes congolais (UPC) which is fighting to retain control of Bunia after seizing it from Lendu fighters on Monday, was already in possession of heavy weaponry which had been supplied by air by Rwanda. Uganda and Rwanda have long accused each other of fuelling ethnic tensions in Ituri in order to further their own interests in securing access to the region's mineral wealth.

UN personnel in Bunia said that at least 10 people were killed and 100 injured in Wednesday's fighting. "I saw only civilians, poor women killed with their children," Michel Kassa, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in DRC, said.

Ngongi said Bunia residents were living "from day to day". MONUC said that 15,000 people were camped in and around the UN compound in Bunia and at the airport, which is under UN control.

The Congolese president Joseph Kabila on Wednesday travelled to the Tanzanian commercial capital, Dar-es-Salaam, where he was expected to meet delegates from Bunia and regional leaders on Thursday to discuss the fighting. MONUC said that a delegation from Bunia flew out during a lull in Wednesday's fighting.

UPC leader Thomas Lubanga told IRIN that he would not travel to Tanzania on Wednesday because of the situation but would be prepared to travel in the future.

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