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The forgotten war in Africa



Published: Mon, April 21, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Washington Post: Television pictures may appear to tell a different story, but right now, the world's most vicious conflict is not the one going on in Iraq. In fact, if the death tolls from the current Iraq war, the 1991 Gulf War, the war in Afghanistan and all of the Balkan wars of the past decade are combined, they would still not exceed the number of deaths caused by the much more obscure war in Congo.

Toll in the millions

The International Rescue Committee, which works with refugees in the region, said in a report published this week 3.3 million people have died prematurely in that country since war broke out in 1998. The committee also believes that one in every eight homes has suffered a violent death; that in some regions, 75 percent of children born during the war have died or will die before their second birthday; and that the region is plagued by malnutrition and infectious diseases that in other circumstances would be curable.

Although the region is one of the poorest in the world, the source of the crisis is not the lack of humanitarian aid. The ultimate cause of the desperate poverty and high mortality is the war, between and among tribes and militia units in Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. The war has ethnic origins.

Yet the war keeps going not for ethnic reasons but because so many covet the region's gold, diamonds and coltan, an obscure but critical mineral used in almost all cell phones, laptops and pagers. Both Rwanda and Uganda are fueling the conflict and using the consequent chaos to exploit the region's minerals.




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