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UN to Vote on Sending Troops to DRC - 2003-05-28

The U.N. Security Council Wednesday moved a step closer to sending troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo as a top U.N. relief official described the extent of ethnic violence in the northeastern province of Ituri.

The Security Council is expected to vote Friday on a draft resolution circulated Wednesday to send a multinational force to Ituri. Pakistani ambassador and Security Council President Munir Akram said there was unanimous support in the council for the draft.

Fighting around the provincial capital city of Bunia between Hema and Lendu ethnic groups has killed hundreds of civilians in recent weeks. French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere praised the council's willingness to take action to stop the fighting.

"I think that we have to show that the whole international community is ready to act when there is an emergency situation," he said.

France is expected to lead the force whose size and makeup are yet to be determined. There are 700 U.N. troops are currently in the region. But they have been unable to stop the brutal fighting around Bunia.

U.N. Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Carolyn McAskie has just returned from the region. She says atrocities are widespread.

"We have seen the most horrible things in Bunia," he said. "Women who have lost their arms and legs, children amputees, men chopped to bits, women raped. And at least we're able, the ones who come to Bunia we can get them into hospital, we can get them cared for. But can you imagine the people in that condition out in the bush who get no care at all? It hardly bears thinking about."

Ms. McAskie says most of Bunia's 350,000 residents have fled the city to the bush or to poorly equipped refugee camps.

The recent fighting is the latest chapter in the Congolese war that started in 1998 and has involved rival congolese militias with support from troops from five countries. The violence follows the withdrawal of Ugandan forces several weeks ago, and breaks a two-week-old cease-fire.

Uganda and Rwanda have each backed Congolese ethnic militias. Both countries have approved the proposed U.N. peacekeeping force.

Ms. McAskie says a separate humanitarian crisis has developed in south Kivu, where more than a thousand rapes have been reported in areas under the control of the RCD Goma rebel group.

"We're not just seeing women who have been raped," she said. "We're seeing women who have been torn apart, who have been cut up, and who are on the edge of death. Women from the age of babies of two, three, four years old, to older women in their 70s, and even the oldest woman registered at one of the hospitals was over 80 years old. This is horrifying."

Ms. McAskie is not calling for a separate U.N. military force for south Kivu. But, she says, the international community should keep pressure on all the forces involved.