DJUGU, Democratic Republic of Congo — The resource-rich but deeply troubled Democratic Republic of Congo is the site of some of Africa’s longest-running conflicts — and the world’s largest peacekeeping mission.
About 20,000 United Nations peacekeepers operate in Congo, Africa’s second most populous country, trying to keep its residents safe from the hundreds of armed groups that hide in and strike from its hills, especially in its east.
Violence is nothing new here, but a recent wave of brutal fighting has broken out in the province of Ituri, on the border with Uganda, raising concerns about a humanitarian catastrophe. More than 260 people have died and more than 200,000 have fled their homes since December in a conflict started by a scuffle between youths from two local ethnic communities, the Lendu and Hema.
The United Nations peacekeeping mission announced this past week it had discovered five suspected mass grave sites near some of the villages attacked in February and March, when the violence peaked.
The Lendu and Hema in Ituri live as neighbors, marry one another and speak the same language — but they also share a history of bloody conflict.
A dispute over land, nearly 20 years ago, escalated, and Ituri became the epicenter of a major regional war, involving foreign neighbors like Rwanda and Uganda, which backed different militias in their own battles for influence in Congo. Some of those foreign-backed militia leaders later became the first men convicted of war crimes at the International Criminal Court.