GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo, June 25 (UPI) -- The 15-year-old civil war in the mineral-rich Democratic Republic of Congo seems to go on and on forever.
In the latest spasm of savagery in a conflict known as "Africa's world war" in which an estimated 5 million people have died, a rebel warlord known as The Terminator is advancing on the strategic town of Kitchanga amid fears of a new ethnic bloodbath breaking out.
Since the fighting erupted in November 1996, at least nine African states have taken part in the bloodletting, driven by their lust for the DRC's mineral wealth, which lies mainly in the east of the country.
Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, aka The Terminator, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes, including the recruitment of child soldiers, committed in the ethnic butchery that took place in eastern DRC in 2002-03.
On June 19, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay took the unusual step of singling out Ntaganda and his henchmen as being responsible for large-scale atrocities.
"Many of them have been responsible for war crimes," she said.
"Their appalling track records include allegations of involvement in mass rape and of responsibility for massacres and for using child soldiers between 2002 and 2003."
The others, like Ntaganda, former rebels who were integrated into the Congolese army of President Joseph Kabila before deserting again, were named as Col. Sultani Makenga, Col. Baudouin Ngaruye, Col. Innocent Zimurinda, and Col. Innocent Kaina.
These days, he and his group, known as M23, pretty much control the heavily militarized provinces of North and South Kivu and the mineral-smuggling networks centered there.
A recent U.N. report said he's believed to be one of the richest warlords in a ravaged land that's full of them.
Fighting in Kivu between rebel forces and the army flared anew in April, when Ntaganda led a mutiny against Kabila, claiming he had failed to implement the terms of a 2009 peace accord.
More than 200,000 people fled their homes as the fighting spread across the Kivu region.
Ntaganda was involved in massacres in the towns of Kiwandja and Shalio in which at least 110 civilians were killed and some 40 women gang-raped and mutilated, U.N. officials said.
Many of the rebels, like Ntaganda, are deserters from Kabila's army. Hundreds of former rebels, absorbed into the military in 2009, have defected to M23, and reportedly continue to do so in large numbers.
Seven senior officers were reported recently to have quit the government forces with 170 soldiers last week to join Ntaganda on his looting spree.
Kitchanga, which lies east of the Uganda border, is a bustling market town split between Tutsi and Hutus, the combatants during the 1990s war in neighboring Rwanda.
It was at the center of a bloody mutiny by Ntaganda's men, seen as the protector of the Tutsis, five years ago. Many residents are fleeing because they fear another massacre is heading their way.
Kabila's government blames "neighboring countries," including Rwanda, for stirring up the violence. A U.N. report leaked in May said there was no evidence to support that claim.
But there is no doubt that neighboring countries, such as Rwanda, Uganda, the Central African Republic, Angola, Burundi and Tanzania, have all participated in their awesome bloodletting. They did this either through direct state intervention or by supporting marauding militias.
Most of the mineral mines are controlled by Kabila's government or rebel forces. Both use men, women and children as slave labor.
Few of the "conflict minerals" are exported by the DRC. Most are smuggled by militias to Uganda and Rwanda from where they're exported to the Far East to be smelted with minerals from elsewhere.
That makes it extremely difficult to trace the origins of the metals and alloys produced so that the international community can stamp out the illegal trade and the human rights abuses involved in their production.
Among the main "conflict minerals" are gold; coltan, a black tar-like substance widely used in the computers, pagers and phones; tin, widely used in household kitchenware; and tungsten, a dense metal used in everything from light bulbs to Formula 1 cars.
The war seems impossible to control. The U.N. has a 17,000-strong peacekeeping force in the DRC but it's woefully inadequate.
|Additional Special Reports Stories|
NORTH HIGHLANDS, Calif., May 20 (UPI) --A 10-year-old girl watching television was killed in a burst of gunshots fired at her family's North Highlands, Calif., home, police said.
LAS VEGAS, May 20 (UPI) --Teen pop star Justin Bieber was greeted by both cheers and jeers when he picked up the Milestone Award at the Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas.
SAN ANTONIO, May 20 (UPI) --BP has take "a significant step" toward selling a California oil refinery and regional retail networks to Tesoro Corp. after getting U.S. federal approval.