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UN Proposes Multinational Force for Eastern DRC - 2003-05-16

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is asking the Security Council to send a rapid deployment force to the eastern Congo, the scene of intense fighting between ethnic groups and humanitarian atrocities.

In a letter to the Security Council, Mr. Annan expresses concern that the situation in Bunia, the capital of Ituri province, may worsen, despite a ceasefire between the government of the DRC and warring groups. He asked the council to urgently consider sending a multinational force to Bunia, where hundreds of civilians have been killed and thousands of people are starving and homeless.

In a statement, the council said it welcomes the secretary-general's efforts.

U.N. spokesperson Fred Eckhard says the emergency force will stay in Congo only until the United Nations peacekeeping mission is reinforced.

Currently, the United Nations has less than 700 U.N. peacekeepers are in the region. "Because the situation in Bunia threatens to undermine the peace process in the DRC and, thereby, threaten international peace and security in the region, he concluded the international community must act decisively," he said. "The search for troop contributors to the multinational force continues to go well with generous responses from several members states offering both troops and logistical and financial support."

Mr. Eckhard says humanitarian groups took advantage of a lull in fighting Friday to bring in more aid workers and supplies. He says about 12,000 people are seeking refuge at the U.N. compound in Bunia and at its logistical base at the nearby airport.

The Security Council is expected to discuss authorization of a multinational force early next week.