Congo blames Uganda for murder of Red Cross workers

Rebel soldiers patrol Kalemie, in eastern Congo. A number of foreign-backed rebel groups have been fighting for control of Congo since 1998 Keystone Archive

The Democratic Republic of Congo has accused Uganda of the murder of six members of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The aid workers, including one Swiss woman, were killed in an attack in the northeast of Congo.

This content was published on April 28, 2001 - 11:12

"According to the information we have, the six ICRC workers were most probably murdered by the Ugandan army who also discovered the bodies," said Ileka Atoki, a Congolese diplomat to the United Nations.

According to the ICRC, the dead were four local workers and two foreign delegates - a Colombian man, Julio Delgado, and a Swiss nurse, Rita Fox.

The ICRC said its workers were found dead beside their two vehicles around 30 kilometres from the town of Bunia near the Ugandan border. They had been shot and hacked to death.

It was the most serious attack on ICRC workers for the past five years.

In a letter to the UN Security Council president, Jeremy Greenstock, Atoki said the killings were carried out "in a zone under the effective control of Uganda."

Ugandan-backed rebels of the Congo Liberation Front control the Bunia region, which was the scene of violent inter-ethnic clashes earlier this year.

The Ugandan army has denied it was behind the killings.

"The Congolese don't know what is going on in their own zones, so how can they know what what happened in this part of Congo? It's not possible," colonel Nobel Mayombo, a Ugandan army official told AFP news agency.

A number of foreign-backed rebel groups have been fighting for control of the mineral rich country since 1998. Recently their leaders agreed a ceasefire under which the United Nations was to deploy observers along the former frontline.

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, said he was "shocked" by the news of the attack. The body of Rita Fox is to be sent back Switzerland and is expected to arrive in Geneva on Monday, Juan Martinez, a CICR spokesman said.

ICRC spokesman, Darcy Christen, said the aid workers had been deliberately targeted. "This is a clear violation of the Red Cross," he told swissinfo, adding that the two vehicles had borne clear Red Cross markings.

"We are very shocked," Christen said. "This was an area in which we were active and we were known." The team was on a mission to deliver medical aid.

Christen said the two foreign delegates had extensive knowledge of Africa and the local area. The Swiss worker was responsible for health issues, while the Colombian delegate was assessing humanitarian conditions in the area.

Christen stressed that the ICRC had long experience of working in Congo and was well respected there. He said there had been nothing to indicate that its workers in the Bunia region were at risk.

"Our policy is not to expose any of our delegates to critical situations," Christen told swissinfo.

"The standing orders are that if there is any indication that there's fighting going on, or there's a problem, they should refrain from going out to those areas. They went out knowing there was no indication that this could happen."

The ICRC said it would review its involvement in the area in the light of the attack. It is also seeking further security guarantees.

swissinfo with agencies

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