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Bantus, Pygmies sign historic peace deal in DR Congo

FILE PHOTO: Hundreds of Pygmies demonstrate on August 9, 2014 in Kinshasa to protest against their discrimination from other communities and to call for peaceful coexistence. The event aims to support a bill, on “protecting and promoting the rights of indigenous Pygmy peoples,” said Patrick Sayidi, coordinator of the Group Dynamics of Indigenous Peoples. Banner reads “International days for indigenous peoples.” AFP PHOTO

Lubumbashi, DR Congo | AFP | 

The Pygmy and Bantu people of the Democratic Republic of Congo signed a peace deal Friday to put an end to decades of deadly violence that has killed hundreds.

Pygmies from the ethnic Twa group have been seeking recognition of equal rights with other citizens in the vast, unstable DR Congo, but they regularly come into conflict with Bantus from the ethnic Luba group who regard them as second-class.

In the peace deal signed in Kalemie, capital of Tanganyika province, the Bantu and Pygmies said they were “determined to definitively erase the root causes” of the conflict and “promote genuine reconciliation and cohabitation”.

Thousands of poisoned arrows were burnt at the ceremony and a tree planted by representatives of the two communities.

Since December 2013, northern Katanga — a region as large as Spain that was split into four provinces in 2015, including Tanganyika — has been the scene of multiple deadly clashes between the Pygmies and Bantus.

At least 15 people from the Bantu community were killed in January in an attack blamed on Pygmies.

More than 200 people were reported dead in violence in 2014-2015 and tens of thousands fled fighting that pitted bows and arrows against machete blades.

Twenty people were killed in three days of bloodshed in October last year over a tax paid to Bantus on harvesting caterpillars — a staple food for Pygmies.

Cohabitation has never been easy between the two communities, with the land-owning Bantus accused of exploiting the hunter-gatherers, paying them meagre wages, or paying them in alcohol and cigarettes for labouring the land.

However, Pygmy leader Kapupu Diwa told AFP at the peace signing that the “Twa are committed to respecting their signatures. We hope the Luba will do the same”.

Luba tribal chief Mwamba Baruti echoed his counterpart, saying that “the war between the two communities has now ended”.

He added: “We are confident about the future”.

Tensions between the two peoples stretch back before DR Congo gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

 

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