Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) finally allowed some 1,200 DRC refugees stranded on the Burundian side of the border to return home, UN sources said.
The population of the DRC is approximately 55 million.The Congo has more than 200 tribal groups, with numerous distinct languages. The DRC is predominantly Christian (70%) with indigenous beliefs (20%) and Muslim (10%).
Effective July 2003, the country is being run by transitional government, with the goal of having elections for a representative government in 2005.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been torn apart by competing internal and external groups with shifting alliances originally touched off by the Rwandan refugee crisis in eastern Congo in 1994.
Former president Mobutu's allegiance to the Rwandan Hutu militias in the Rwandan refugee camps was countered by an alliance among Congolese rebel leader Laurent Kabila, Rwandan Patriotic Army's Paul Kagame, and Uganda's Yoweri Museveni. These allies attacked the Rwandan camps in Fall 1996, routing refugees and their militia leaders. They then marched on the DRC capital, Kinshasa, deposing Mobutu in Spring1997. Laurent Kabila took power.
Deterioration of this Kabila, Rwanda, Uganda alliance led to the ousting of Rwandan forces from the western DRC. Rwanda then consolidated its control in the East by backing the formation of a rebel group called the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), based in Goma. The Ugandans likewise backed an RCD faction further north, which has since splintered into a number of groups.
Laurent Kabila invited the Zimbabwean, Angolan, and Namibian armies to assist him in the west, after Rwanda and Uganda tried to march on Kinshasa in 1998. All foreign armies signed the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement in July 1999, followed by a UN Security Council recommendation for a UN peacekeeping force (UN Organization Mission in the DRC: MONUC) for the Congo. Laurent was assassinated in January 2001, and his son, Joseph, assumed power ten days later.
Under an agreement signed July 2003 with the Kinshasa government, Rwanda agreed to withdraw its troops in return for the disarmament of Hutu militiamen who were involved in Rwanda's 1994 genocide and were still fighting in the Congo. A similar withdrawal agreement was signed with Uganda.
Fighting in and around the Ituri capital of Bunia reached critical levels in May 2003 when armed groups took advantage of the departure of Ugandan troops to recapture the city. They attacked ferociously, systematically killing, raping, torturing and mutilating the population. As an interim measure, a French-led European Union force the Interim Emergency Multinational Force (IEMF) was deployed to Bunia to stop the killing there and give the UN time to deploy MONUC III under an enhanced Chapter VII mandate. The relative stability in Bunia that resulted from the IEMF and the new MONUC deployment have created an environment in which killings and human rights violations have decreased but are far from being eliminated, and the Interim Government in Kinshasa is taking steps to move the country toward national elections in 2005.
Congo's war is estimated by the International Rescue Committee to have killed more than 3.3 million people since June 1998, mostly non-combatants who have died of malnutrition and disease. The latest UN estimates are that 2.7 million Congolese are displaced from their homes including 300,000 who have sought refuge in neighboring countries.
An ethnic Banyamulenge child waits to cross the Congolese border after being stuck in the no-mans-land between Burundi and Congo since October 6 after that the Congolese army prevented them to go back to their own villages.
Although MONUC is currently extending its operations outside Bunia to other areas of Ituri, humanitarian aid still cannot reach many regions because of lack of access due to both insecurity and the deterioration of infrastructure. Due to these factors and the country's sheer size, the DRC is the most expensive country to deliver aid to in the world.