Meditation Focus #88

Averting More Ethnic Violence in Congo


What follows is the 88th Meditation Focus suggested for the two consecutive weeks beginning Sunday, May 18, 2003.


1. Summary
2. Meditation times
3. More information on this Meditation Focus
4. Peace Watch for the Middle East


After 800,000 men, women and children were slaughtered in Rwanda nine years ago, everyone said "never again." But unless the United Nations Security Council moves swiftly and decisively, another African genocide seems distressingly imminent. The place this time is the small, mineral-rich Ituri Province in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where jammed together live 5 million Hema and Lendu - names that may soon become as indelibly inscribed on our collective conscience as Tutsi and Hutu. The war in the Congo has already caused the deaths of 3 million people; in Ituri alone 50,000 people have been killed and 200,000 displaced since 1999. Alarmingly, worse seems likely unless foreign troops are sent immediately. Ituri's current crisis has its roots in colonial history, with the Hema minority enjoying greater privileges and better education than the majority Lendu. After the collapse of state authority in 1998, the Hema leadership grabbed control of land and key gold mines, enlisting support from Ugandan army officers. Lendu militias retaliated and there has been a downward spiral of violence since. Since the end of April, Ugandan forces have finally been withdrawing, in accordance with the larger Congo peace agreement signed last September. But in the last few days a Hema group, backed by Rwanda, seized the provincial capital, Bunia, and sent ethnic Lendu fleeing.

Please dedicate your prayers and meditations, as guided by Spirit, in the coming two weeks, and especially in synchronous attunement at the usual time this Sunday and the following one, to contribute in creating the condition leading to a lessening of tensions and ethnic violence between the Hema and Lendu in the province of Ituri. May the willingness to accept and embrace each others's differences become the prevailing choice by all parties concerned and may the spirit of harmlessness grow in everyone's minds and hearts so as to make any additional acts of violence unthinkable and profoundly revulsive. Please envision the laying down of weapons and the will to make peace and live with compassion and love becoming the dominant feature of all remaining armed conflicts in Congo, and on Earth as a whole in the very near future, for the Highest Good of All.

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3. More information on this Meditation Focus

This complement of information may help you to better understand the various aspects pertaining to the summary description of the subject of this Meditation Focus. It is recommended to view this information from a positive perspective, and not allow the details to tinge the positive vision we wish to hold in meditation. Since what we focus on grows, the more positive our mindset, the more successful we will be in manifesting a vision of peace and healing. This complementary information is provided so that a greater knowledge of what needs healing and peace-nurturing vibrations may assist us to have an in-depth understanding of what is at stake and thus achieve a greater collective effectiveness.


Africa is on the verge of another genocide

May 17, 2003

The UN must act 

BRUSSELS - After 800,000 men, women and children were slaughtered in Rwanda nine years ago, everyone said "never again." But unless the United Nations Security Council moves swiftly and decisively, another African genocide seems distressingly imminent.

The place this time is the small, mineral-rich Ituri Province in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where jammed together live 5 million Hema and Lendu - names that may soon become as indelibly inscribed on our collective conscience as Tutsi and Hutu. The war in the Congo has already caused the deaths of 3 million people; in Ituri alone 50,000 people have been killed and 200,000 displaced since 1999. Alarmingly, worse seems likely unless foreign troops are sent immediately.

Ituri's current crisis has its roots in colonial history, with the Hema minority enjoying greater privileges and better education than the majority Lendu. After the collapse of state authority in 1998, the Hema leadership grabbed control of land and key gold mines, enlisting support from Ugandan army officers. Lendu militias retaliated and there has been a downward spiral of violence since.

Since the end of April, Ugandan forces have finally been withdrawing, in accordance with the larger Congo peace agreement signed last September. But in the last few days a Hema group, backed by Rwanda, seized the provincial capital, Bunia, and sent ethnic Lendu fleeing.

The UN mission in Congo, known as MONUC, was supposed to fill the security vacuum as Uganda left, but its 712 troops in Bunia were unable to stop the fighting. Crippled by Security Council delays over troop deployment, it completely failed to exert its authority. And Rwanda, it seems, has been only too willing to humiliate the UN mission and undercut the transition government soon to be formed in Kinshasa.

The responsibility for the present drift and impotence is shared. Britain keeps trying to knock Ugandan and Rwandan government heads together, but also goes on giving them both generous unconditional aid - a policy ripe for reconsideration. It is critical that Uganda and Rwanda, whose proxy warfare has already caused so much Congo misery, be put under real pressure to stay out of Ituri for good.

UN efforts have been much hampered by U.S. reluctance to authorize or provide the necessary resources. In December, the Bush administration finally agreed to support a resolution providing an extra 3,000 troops to bolster the UN mission's existing 5,700, but then insisted that the new deployment be split. This means that at best a battalion of Bangladeshi soldiers will reach Bunia by October, by which time tens of thousands of people may be dead.

Nothing much moves these days without Washington's support, and if the Bush administration does not alter its attitude to this crisis it runs the risk of being seen as just as indifferent as the Clinton administration was to Rwanda in 1994. Breast-beating after the event is no substitute for effective action before it.

The UN mission's own performance has been less than impressive and it has to lift its game, fast. While its mandate is minimal - to monitor the cease-fire and voluntary disarmament - and its troop numbers have always been inadequate, it has often seemed more preoccupied with protecting its own personnel than helping protect Congolese civilians to the extent it has been capable.

The UN mission has repatriated only a few hundred Rwandan fighters out of the 15,000-20,000 in eastern Congo. Last March it completely failed to report the redeployment of unofficial Rwandan forces into North and South Kivu, the other cauldron of continuing Congo violence.

This time there must be no shirking of responsibility by the United Nations, Washington and the rest of the international community. Diplomatic pressure by itself seems unlikely to bring the situation in Ituri under any kind of control. The Security Council must immediately endorse the deployment of a multinational force to Ituri, fully empowered under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to stabilize the situation, remaining there until UN forces take over the mission in a few months time.

France has indicated it is willing to send troops if others join it. That is very welcome, but there will have to be movement in days or weeks, not months, and in adequate numbers - at least a brigade, around 3,000 troops, is required.

The warning bells have been rung about Ituri, and no one can say they haven't been heard. Words of public indignation are not enough. The world must prove that it can do better than stand by and watch as another genocide unfolds.

The writer is president of the International Crisis Group.



Heavy Fighting Rages in Congolese Town

NAIROBI, May 15 (IPS) - Battles between ethnic militias in the eastern Congolese town of Bunia are continuing as world leaders try to put together an international peacekeeping force to avert a possible genocide.

Lendu fighters are using mortars, artillery and small arms, Associated Press reports, to try and recapture the town which they lost to the Hema-led Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) on Monday.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled, desperate to escape the indiscriminate ethnic killings being carried out by the rival tribal militias, said a UN official in Bunia.

About 10,000 people are sheltering in and around the UN compound in Bunia, said the official. Even there, they are not safe. A woman seeking sanctuary inside the compound was killed by a stray bullet on Tuesday, she said.

Pope John Paul II and the United Nation's chief war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte have warned that the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) could be on the verge of genocide, as witnessed in neighboring Rwanda in 1994.

The Pope said he was "profoundly disturbed" by the killing of two priests and others taking shelter in a Catholic Church in the town.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is trying to piece together a multinational force to bring an end to the bloodshed.

There are currently 600 UN soldiers, mainly Uruguayans, in Bunia, known as MONUC. But they are hopelessly outnumbered by some 25,000 militiamen. And their mandate limits them to doing little more than handing out food.

France has agreed to send about 700 troops to Congo, if they are part of an international team with the mandate to use force.

Many more countries need to come forward to make the force effective.

"It has to be a brigade, at least 3,000 people. It could be a combination of the French forces plus other forces, MONUC forces or South African forces, or whoever is willing to go," says Fabienne Hara, Africa director at the International Crisis Group, an advocacy organization based in Brussels.

"There is no alternative," she stresses.

The latest round of fighting erupted last week, when Ugandan forces, which had been occupying Bunia, pulled out.

Bunia has served as the battleground for a proxy war between other forces in the region.

Uganda and Rwanda have been backing rival militias and rebel groups in eastern Congo since 1998, for their own political aims. Under enormous international pressure, they have now pulled out--leaving chaos in their wake.

The United Nation has come under massive criticism for failing to prevent a largely foreseeable crisis.

"For a long time, MONUC and NGOs have actually reported the problems. For more than a year now information has been brought to the Security Council about the deterioration of the situation in Ituri Province. Several plans have been considered but no action has been taken," Hara complains.

"The Security Council has not taken action even though all the warnings were there," she stresses.

This is a common problem in Africa, where peacekeeping troops are urgently needed to bolster shaky peace deals but promises to send UN forces are not met.

There is a similar crisis in neighboring Burundi, which has been waiting for months for UN troops to fly in and support its fragile peace process.

In Bunia, the United Nations is now urging Uganda to use its influence to calm the situation.

The conflict between the Hema and Lendu is largely over the distribution of resources and land between the two communities. But it has been stoked by regional powers, which have pumped weapons into the province, to make it a much more intense, bloody and sustained conflict.

Others believe Uganda and Rwanda need to be put under much greater pressure to force their Congolese allies to stop fighting.

"I'd like to see serious pressure on Rwanda and Uganda. They have to be accountable. The mess in eastern Congo is largely their fault, largely their responsibility," says Hara.

"The UPC that's just taken over Bunia is Rwandan-backed. They claim they are not there but they are there. Uganda has just left but they have left a lot of allies and proxies and weapons behind them," she points out.

She says sanctions should be introduced if Rwanda and Uganda do not put their weight behind the peace process.

Congolese President Joseph Kabila is trying to arrange a meeting with the Rwandan and Ugandan presidents in Tanzania this week.

An airplane carrying leaders of three main Lendu and two Hema militias and the Congolese Minister of Human Rights flew to Tanzania on Wednesday to meet Kabila, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported.

Attention also needs to be given to supporting local reconciliation efforts.

There is an ongoing political process in Bunia, the Ituri Pacification Commission, which has established some institutions and appointed local authorities.

"This process has to be continued and a minimum agreement on the rules of engagement has to be obtained from the different parties," says Hara.

In recent months, the DRC has made giant strides towards ending its four-and-a-half-year war. A transitional government of national unity is due to be installed in the capital, Kinshasa, later this month. But the current fighting is putting that peace process in serious jeopardy.



Background: The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

April 11, 2003

Report by

BACKGROUND REPORT ( -- The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the current incarnation of a state that has been known to history as Congo Free State, Belgian Congo, Congo/Leopoldville, Congo/Kinshasa, and Zaire. It is still known in some circles as Congo-Kinshasa to distinguish it from its neighbor, Republic of Congo, or Congo-Brazzaville. Much of its western border is comprised of the Congo River which it shares with Republic of Congo in an undefined way; no specific agreements have been reached on the division of the river, its islands, or its resources.

This nation of approximately 55 million is in Central Africa surrounded by Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Angola. There are over 200 African ethnic groups but about 45% of the population is made of three groups who are Bantu and a fourth group that is Hamitic.

DRC is a state endowed with vast potential wealth (gold, diamonds, rubber, copper, cobalt, oil, timber) but its economy has declined significantly since the mid-1980's due a variety of unsuccessful government measures, the residue of colonial rule, and the financial imperialism of new masters. Its recent history has been one of internal conflict. Much of this arose as the state absorbed large numbers of refugees from the fighting in Rwanda and Burundi in 1994. But the conflicts in the whole region of Central Africa date back as far as the fifteenth century and are today, as they always have been, conflicts of imperialism.

Many of the countries in this area achieved independence from colonial masters in the 1950's and 1960's and quickly degenerated into fighting within and without their borders, much of it spurred by the "financial colonialists" who stepped into the gap left by the old monarchies. The history of these states since the fifteenth century has been one of European colonialism, resistance, independence, followed by neo-colonialism, and prolonged resistance yet again. The primary beneficiary of the new order in this region was the United States who allegedly maneuvered the assassination of Congo's first president, Patrice Lamumba, in 1960. The country's history has been troubled ever since. President Joseph Mobutu ruled for over 30 years after coming to power in a CIA-aided coup. He is said to have turned over and again to policies and practices that would favor the United States government and business interests over the needs and interests of his people. But rebel groups arose to challenge Mobutu's rule and in 1997 power was seized by Laurent Kabila, a former Marxist who led the Alliance of Democratic Forces. During most of Mobutu's rule the country had been known as Zaire but in May 1997 Kabila formally changed its name to Democratic Republic of the Congo.

On assumption of power, Kabila inherited a country already involved in massive tribal infighting, partly arising because of the influx of refugees in 1994. His rule was quickly challenged by a Rwanda and Uganda backed rebellion in August 1998. Finally, troops from Zimbabwe, Chad, Angola, Namibia, and Sudan intervened to support Kabila's government. Even though a cease-fire was reached in July 1999 between DRC, Zimbabwe, Angola, Uganda, Namibia, Rwanda and the Congolese rebels, sporadic fighting continued unabated. Kabila was assassinated January 16, 2001 and rule of the country fell to his son, Joseph.

Joseph Kabila was successful in negotiating a withdrawal of the Rwandan forces from Congo in October 2002 and early in 2003, all combatant parties finally came to the table and agreed to cease the fighting. They agree to set up a government of national unity as a caretaker until democratic elections can be held in 2005. These will be the first democratic votes cast in this country in over forty years. Remaining Ugandan forces have promised to depart the country by the end of April 2003.

Intertribal conflicts are continuing to erupt periodically, threatening the stability of this fragile peace. As recent as last week, a group of Ituri villagers near the border with Uganda was massacred; early casualty estimates were as high as 1,000 people although this has now been downgraded to between 150-300, according to United Nations observers. Although promises are made to bring the perpetrators to justice, this may be just one more incident in a long history of inter-tribal conflict that will require some careful diplomacy to resolve. As of April 11, 2003 the peace agreement is holding and the government is beginning its drive toward restoring the infrastructure and social systems of DRC. The nation lost as many as 3.3 million people as a result of the past five years of fighting. At this point, they are anxious to get back on their feet, without the shackles of colonialism.



U.N. Urges Annan to Build Force for Congo (May 17)

UNITED NATIONS - The Security Council has demanded an end to a wave of killings in northeastern Congo and urged Secretary-General Kofi Annan to try to round up troops for an emergency international force. Annan sent a letter Friday asking the council to approve the speedy deployment of "a highly trained and well-equipped multinational force" to the town of Bunia, which has been at the center of the ethnic violence. He expressed concern that "the rapidly deteriorating situation" would worsen and have serious humanitarian consequences.

The secretary-general has already asked France to lead the force and provide a battalion with up to 1,000 troops. But Paris won't accept unless other nations join and the deployment is for a limited period. Council diplomats said Annan has asked about 20 countries for troops and some indicated they were prepared to contribute, including South Africa and Angola.

Pakistan's U.N. Ambassador Munir Akram, the current council president, said the council hopes to have a clearer idea about troop contributions early next week. Then, a resolution authorizing an emergency force would be drafted, and hopefully be approved later in the week, he said.

Rival Lendu and Hema tribal groups have been fighting for control of Bunia in resource-rich Ituri province since May 7, when neighboring Uganda withdrew its more than 6,000 troops from in and around the town as part of a U.N.-brokered peace accord. At least 100 people have been confirmed killed in the fighting. The Ugandan withdrawal left Bunia in the hands of local Lendu tribal fighters, a 625-member U.N. peacekeeping contingent made up mostly of troops from Uruguay, and an even smaller Congolese police force. The contingent proved no match for an estimated 25,000 to 28,000 Lendu and Hema fighters in Ituri. The United Nations strengthened its forces in Bunia to 750 on Friday as the tribal factions signed a cessation of hostilities agreement.

"This is an escalating and serious situation to which greater international attention is urgently needed," said Richard Grenell, spokesman for U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte. "The United States is very concerned about the recent developments and is looking for ways in which we can support efforts to end the violence." A formal statement adopted by the Security Council on Friday condemns the recent killings and "demands that all hostilities in Ituri cease immediately." The council warned that "there will be no impunity" for the perpetrators of human rights violations and other atrocities in Bunia.

The French-led force that Annan is trying to put together would be an international force, backed by the United Nations, which Annan said would provide security at the airport and vital installations in Bunia "and protect the civilian population." It would not be a U.N. peacekeeping force.

Neighboring Uganda and Rwanda and their Congo rebel allies held east Congo during a civil war that began in 1998. The armies and those of Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia have since withdrawn under a series of peace deals. Uganda had warned that the withdrawal of the last of its troops would leave a security vacuum.

The council authorized an 8,700-strong U.N. peacekeeping force for Congo in December and Annan is expected to recommend an expansion in a report next week, diplomats said. A 1,500-strong Bangladesh-led battalion is expected to be deployed to Bunia and Ituri in the coming months, and diplomats said France wants the emergency force to remain only until it arrives.



Residents Say Violence in Congo Despite Cease-fire (May 17)

BUNIA, Congo (Reuters) - Residents of the town of Bunia in eastern Congo said on Saturday killings and kidnappings continued despite a cease-fire signed by Congolese President Joseph Kabila and militia groups due to take effect on Saturday. Residents said youths armed mostly with spears, knives and bows and arrows were still fighting on the edge of the town.

Violence in and around Bunia between militias linked to rival Hema and Lendu communities was estimated by the United Nations to have killed hundreds of people in the past week. Colonel Daniel Vollot, the local commander of U.N. troops, told Reuters the truce that took effect at midnight local time would be difficult to implement.

"On the ground it will be very difficult. In the past what I have seen is that every day we have an agreement, the next day we have war," Vollot told Reuters. Resident Claude Watum said there had been renewed violence after the deadline. "The cease-fire exists only on paper. In practice the killings and kidnaps continue," he said.

Vollot said Lendu militia leaders had told him they were having difficulty controlling some fighters who they said were under the influence of drugs. He said he had heard that young Lendu fighters had been taking potions made out of snakes and chameleons in the belief they would make them resistant to bullets. In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked Security Council members on Friday to consider sending a rapid reaction force of about 1,000 troops to eastern Congo.

Annan said in a letter to the 15-member council he believed the situation around Bunia could worsen despite the truce. A small party of 15 soldiers from France and other countries will visit Bunia on Monday to assess whether the French military can end the violence, said Vollot, who is French. France has said it is willing to participate in a force to quell the fighting.

"We ask the French to come here immediately," said a man who gave his name as Chindembo, standing outside the U.N. military headquarters in the center of town.


The U.N. troops, part of a force originally sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo to monitor and supervise a cease-fire in its wider war, has neither the ability nor the mandate to impose peace.

A U.N. official said that 20 troops had been withdrawn from their monitoring positions because security had deteriorated, adding that reports indicated the warring factions wanted to take control of Bunia airport from the U.N. The airport is the town's only reliable lifeline to the outside world.

"Perhaps we'll have to fight to protect it," the U.N. officer said. No specific action by either of the warring parties to seize the airport had been reported yet. Kabila signed a cease-fire deal with members of five militias in Tanzania on Friday, binding all signatories to cease hostilities, demilitarize Bunia and allow the deployment of an international intervention force. About three million people have died since Congo's civil war began in 1998, most of them civilians killed by hunger or disease. Several African states entered the war on different sides.

Other cease-fires have been signed during the course of the war, but fighting and massive human rights abuses have continued in the Ituri region of eastern Congo regardless.



Gashes and Amputations - the Legacy of Congo's War

May 16

BUNIA (Reuters) - On the day a cease-fire was signed in this corner of Congo's war, the wounded lie chopped and bludgeoned on the floor of a makeshift clinic ward. For them the war cannot simply be wished away. Take Baraka Mukane, nine-months-old, sucking desperately at her mother's breast. The infant has a huge bandage across her scalp where an attacker cut part of her head open.

She may survive, a nurse says, but she will probably be brain damaged for life. "After she was wounded, she stopped playing, she refuses her food and simply wants my breast," said her mother Pascaline Malusi, herself stabbed in the arm by an attacker in the eastern Congo town of Bunia.

During the attack, Pascaline's husband Malabawujo was shot dead by the assailants, one of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people to have lost their lives in the bloodletting this month.

The reason? Asked for their ethnic affiliation, they gave the "wrong" reply, in this case admitting they were from the Hema.

They were the victims of an upsurge in fighting between militias linked to the Hema and the Lendu, old rivals in tribal land disputes but also on occasion, residents say, proxies for foreign combatants who have loomed large in Congo's war, such as Uganda and Rwanda.

On the evidence of the clinic run by manager Faustin Mbapenda, the weapon of choice has been the machete. Deep gashes and amputations cover the wounded who lie, some moaning and bloodied, on rugs and thin mattresses on the floor.


"Animals treat each other better," clinic aide Mputhy Botombe says. "There are bodies decomposing in the villages all around here. But security is so bad no one can go and count them." Row upon row of men, women and infants lie prone, bloodstained bandages placed over gashes.

A woman displays a hand half hacked off. Behind her Locana Kabagambe, a young man, is propped up by nurses who want to show a huge gash running from behind his ear to his lip. Unstitched as yet, the flesh is beginning to swell. His eyes are frightened as he lowers himself on to filthy bandages and blankets. Beside him an old woman stares dumbly at her left arm, its forearm lopped off by an attacker swinging a machete. Mbapenda fumes with outrage as he inspects his clinic, recalling how militiamen on checkpoints ask passersby for their ethnic affiliation. "I reply: 'I am a citizen. That is all. That is all you should know.' When they ask me their questions, I feel like I have already died."


Close by, an armored car of U.N. peacekeeping troops stands guard outside the main U.N. office on the rutted dirt track that passes for Bunia's main street. Cease-fires in the Democratic Republic of Congo are often broken. Other similar truces have been signed during the course of war, which has raged since 1998, but the fighting and violent attacks have continued regardless. Asked what he thought of the peace agreement announced in Dar es Salaam, Mbapenda replied: "This is not over yet. You should see how these young men behave, with their ethnic fixation. As long as they do that this will not end."


See also:

Tens Of Thousands Flee Ethnic Fighting In Congo (May 16)
Fleeing civilians jammed roads out of the eastern Congolese city of Bunia yesterday as tens of thousands tried to escape the rival ethnic militias battling for control. President Joseph Kabila and the factions' leaders opened urgent talks at the prompting of the United Nations, which has warned of a the danger of genocide in Congo's Ituri province, of which Bunia is the capital. The withdrawal of foreign African troops from the province nine days ago opened the way for a bloody power struggle between the rival Lendu and Hema peoples. More than 100 have been confirmed dead, including scores killed at a parish church where they had sought refuge.

Security Council Welcomes Ceasefire in Power Struggle in Northeast DR of Congo

World Must Act to Prevent DRC Massacre: Pahad (May 16)
South Africa was very keen to stop the atrocities currently taking place in the north-eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), deputy foreign affairs minister Aziz Pahad said on Friday. "We are fearful that if the international community does not act quickly another massacre will happen," he told reporters in Pretoria. The United Nations chief war crimes prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, has already warned that fighting in the region could lead to genocide.

Thousands Flee Fighting in Bunia As Fears of Disease Grow (May 16)
Around 50,000 people were fleeing south on foot to escape the fighting in Bunia, in Ituri district of northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the international NGO World Vision (WV) said on Thursday. UN officials have warned of a humanitarian disaster unless the international community steps in to stop the bloodshed caused by rival Hema and Lendu militias.

UN Agencies Step Up Humanitarian Efforts During Lull in Violence
United Nations (New York) May 16, 2003 - United Nations and other humanitarian agencies took advantage today of a brief lull in the violence in north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), pressing ahead on several fronts to help thousands of civilians caught in the middle of a bloody ethnic power struggle for the town of Bunia. Humanitarian agencies used the opportunity to increase the number of their personnel in Bunia to 20 and to step up services. There are now about 12,000 civilians seeking refuge with the UN - 4,000 at the Headquarters compound in Bunia, 6,000 at the UN logistical base at the airport and 2,000 along the airport road. UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York that the Congolese had been given plastic sheeting and high-protein biscuits as water and sanitation experts worked to restore electricity and water supplies to the town.

U.N. Searches for Personnel in Congo (May 17)
BUNIA, Congo - The United Nations appealed to church leaders in northeastern Congo on Saturday to help find two missing agency military observers, after a cease-fire aimed at ending several days of vicious tribal fighting in the area took hold.


4. Peace Watch for the Middle East

Please also keep in mind the current situation in the Middle East where overtures towards renewed peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians in the context of the 'roadmap' to peace proposed by the U.S. government may lead to positive results in the coming months and years, provided that suicide attacks aimed at derailing those peace talks can be prevented and stopped.


Israeli and Palestinian Leaders Meet (May 17)

JERUSALEM - The Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers tried Saturday to work out some of their sharp disagreements over a U.S.-backed peace plan, but their three-hour summit was overshadowed by violence.

It was the first top-level Israeli-Palestinian meeting since fighting erupted 31 months ago. In separate Palestinian attacks in the West Bank, a suicide bomber killed an Israeli man and his pregnant wife, and a gunman went on a shooting spree in a Jewish settlement, critically wounding one resident.

The meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, at Sharon's Jerusalem office ended after three hours. The two had gone into the talks with a long list of conflicting demands.

They disagree over the "road map" plan to Mideast peace, including over who should make the first move. The summit could be a bellwether for future U.S. mediation efforts. If top-level Israeli-Palestinian talks fail to produce results, Washington might have to press the sides harder or even consider imposing solutions.

U.S. President George W. Bush has not spelled out how far he is willing to go in ensuring progress on the "road map," a three-stage prescription for ending violence quickly and setting up a Palestinian state by 2005.

Sharon is to meet Bush on Tuesday to discuss more than dozen Israeli objections to the plan, which requires Israel to freeze settlement construction and withdraw from Palestinian towns in the first stage.

At the summit, Abbas planned to ask Sharon to accept the road map unequivocally, lift travel bans on Palestinians and stop hunting suspected militants in order to allow the Palestinians to launch their own campaign against militias, as required by the peace plan.

Israel says it will not budge until Abbas has taken real steps against the armed groups, including arrests and weapons sweeps. Regarding the road map, Sharon was not expected to give an answer before his meeting with Bush.

Instead, Sharon was to offer Abbas a troop withdrawal from parts of the northern Gaza Strip, including the town Beit Hanoun, as a test case. Palestinian security forces would take control there and try to stop rocket fire on Israeli border towns. If the experiment is successful, Israel would pull out of other Palestinian areas, according to the Israeli media reports.

Earlier this week, Israeli troops seized Beit Hanoun in response to renewed rocket fire on the Israeli town of Sderot, not far from Sharon's sheep farm in the Negev Desert. However, Israeli military reporters have said the main reason for the takeover appeared to be to create a bargaining chip for the summit.

In clashes in Beit Hanoun on Saturday, Israeli troops killed a Palestinian gunmen. Nine Palestinians were wounded, including a gunman and five teens, doctors said. The military said two of the teens threw a firebomb at a military vehicle.

In the divided West Bank town of Hebron, a Palestinian disguised as an observant Jew blew himself up in a downtown square, near Jewish settler enclaves. The bomber killed an Israeli man and his pregnant wife, the army said.

The assailant was later identified by relatives as Fuad Qawasmeh, 21, a supporter of the Islamic militant group Hamas, which has carried out scores of attacks on Israelis since the outbreak of fighting in September 2000.

Palestinian militias have threatened to sabotage the road map, saying they would not halt attacks and would resist forcefully if Abbas tried to disarm them.

Later Saturday, as the meeting between Abbas and Sharon was winding down, at least one Palestinian gunman reportedly went on a shooting rampage in the Jewish settlement of Shaarei Tikvah. Paramedics said one man was critically wounded.

The Abbas-Sharon meeting is the first Israeli-Palestinian summit since September 2000 when then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak met with veteran Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Several days after that meeting, Sharon, then the opposition leader, made a demonstrative visit to a disputed Jerusalem holy site, triggering large-scale Palestinian protests that quickly escalated into the current fighting. In October 2000, Barak and Arafat attended Egyptian-sponsored cease-fire talks, but were part of a larger group of leaders, including then-U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Many Palestinian officials said they believe Saturday's summit largely serves Israeli interests. Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi said Sharon is "using this meeting as a political ploy to mislead, or to give the impression that he can carry out negotiations and that he does have a Palestinian partner."

Sharon aides declined comment Saturday.

Earlier Saturday, Abbas accepted the resignation of Saeb Erekat, a top Palestinian negotiator who stepped down after being excluded from the summit. Erekat's accessibility and fluent English had made him a sought-after guest on TV news shows and a prominent spokesman for the Palestinian cause.

Erekat, who participated in negotiations with Israel for a decade, is close to Arafat, whom Israel and the United States are trying to sideline. Erekat's resignation was apparently prompted by the perceived slight, but growing tensions between Arafat and Abbas might also have played a role.


See also:

Suicide Bombers Hit Jerusalem, Sharon Delays Trip (May 18)
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A Palestinian suicide bomber killed seven people in Jerusalem on Sunday, prompting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to postpone a trip to Washington to discuss a new Middle East peace plan with President Bush. The bomber blew himself up on an Israeli commuter bus, killing at least seven people and wounding 20. Another suicide bomber detonated his explosives belt in the area but killed only himself, bringing the overall toll to nine dead in a fresh spasm of bloodshed hours after Sharon met his new reformist Palestinian counterpart. CLIP

Analysis: Slim hopes for peace (May 17)
Abu Mazen wants an Israeli commitment to the peace plan.

Big Jewish Leaders Tear The Road Map Into Little Pieces (May 16)
In Jewish political life, there are little Jews and big Jews. Little Jews might be college presidents or retired accountants, but they vote (for Democrats mainly), write letters and give money. Big Jews head Jewish organizations. They are the leaders and fund-raisers of the Israel lobby, which lately would appear to be a monolith supporting the Sharon government. This is a story about a big shift among the big Jews.

Text of ‘Road Map’

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