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Missing 2 UN Observers Found Dead in Congo - 2003-05-19

Two missing U.N. military observers in northeastern Congo have been found dead near the war-torn town of Bunia.

A U.N. search and rescue team discovered the bodies of the military observers Sunday in Mongbwalu, in Ituri province about 70-kilometers northwest of the provincial capital, Bunia. The observers, from Jordan and Nigeria, had been missing for nearly a week.

U.N. officials said both bodies show signs of having been severely mutilated. The United Nations has promised to open an investigation to find out who is responsible for the killings.

The unarmed observers last made contact with their U.N. colleagues Tuesday from Mongbwalu. They reported that the situation in Mongbwalu was becoming tense. Traditional ethnic rival groups, the Hema and the Lendu, were preparing for a showdown for control of the gold-rich town.

The latest ethnic fighting in the Bunia area began early this month, after more than six-thousand Ugandan soldiers, under a recently negotiated peace accord, withdrew from Bunia.

The departure of the Ugandan troops prompted ethnic militias in Ituri province to begin battling in earnest for control of mineral-rich towns. The violence is estimated to have killed hundreds of people in recent weeks. On Friday, a cease-fire accord was signed between Congolese President Joseph Kabila and militias linked to Hema and Lendu communities to try to end the violence in Ituri province.

Residents in Bunia say the fighting and widespread lootings have largely stopped, but the city remains extremely tense. Few people believe the cease-fire will hold.

The United Nations has about 700 unarmed military observers in various parts of Congo Kinshasa, monitoring cease-fire agreements intended to bring an end to Congo's nearly five-year-old civil war.

More than three million people have died from fighting, massacres, famine, and disease.