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IN THE NEWS - May 31, 2003: United Nations Troops Sent to Congo - 2003-05-31

This is the VOA Special English program, In the News.

The United Nations Security Council has approved a resolution to send an emergency military force to the eastern Ituri area of the Democratic Republic of Congo. U-N Secretary General Kofi Annan called for the measure earlier this month to end ethnic violence in the main town of Bunia.

France will lead the U-N force of about one-thousand-four-hundred troops. Half of the troops will be French. Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy, Britain, Canada and South Africa have said they will also take part. The United States says it will not send troops, but will consider requests for financial aid. The first troops are to arrive in Congo next week.

The emergency peacekeeping effort is designed to stop ethnic violence in Ituri. Opposing Lendu and Hema tribal armies are fighting for control of Bunia. The fighting has killed at least four-hundred people in recent weeks. Many of the dead were civilians.

U-N aid official Carolyn McAskie recently returned from the area. She says the violence in Ituri province is widespread. She says ethnic leaders are inciting hatred. Men, women and children have been killed. Others have had their arms or legs cut off. Many women have been sexually attacked. She says most of the citizens of Bunia have fled the city to U-N military camps or to poorly equipped refugee camps.

The latest violence follows the withdrawal of Ugandan forces earlier this month from Bunia. The withdrawal was part of a U-N led peace agreement reached in December.

The recent fighting is part of a larger civil war in Congo that began in nineteen-ninety-eight. More than three-million people have died since the war began.The war involved opposing Congolese rebel armies with support from troops from five countries. Uganda and Rwanda had occupying armies in eastern Congo.

Foreign forces have withdrawn from Congo under a series of peace deals. Rebels and the government signed a power-sharing agreement in December. But eastern Congo still remains a battle area.

About seven-hundred U-N troops from Uruguay are currently in Ituri. But they have been unable to stop the fighting around Bunia. The French-led troops will work with the peacekeepers to protect the airport, refugees and people in the city. Rwanda and Uganda support the U-N deployment.

The force will be deployed only until September. It would then be replaced by about one-thousand U-N peacekeepers from Bangladesh.

Some observers have compared the situation in Congo to a smaller version of the mass ethnic killings in Rwanda in nineteen-ninety-four. The United Nations was criticized for not doing enough to stop the killings of more than five-hundred-thousand Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda.

This VOA Special English program, In the News, was written by Cynthia Kirk.