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UN to Send Emergency Force to DRC

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution on Friday to send a French-led emergency force to the eastern Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where recent fighting and atrocities have left at least 400 civilians dead.

The Security Council authorized the temporary, multinational force of about 1,400 troops to try to restore security in Congo's Ituri region.

France will contribute the majority of the troops, and will begin deployment next week.

French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said the U.N. mission follows a request by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to respond to a possible humanitarian disaster in the town of Bunia.

"What has happened in Ituri in recent weeks is, the situation has deteriorated in this region, not only with very dramatic humanitarian consequences and the risk of having a real humanitarian drama, but also the secretary-general considered that it could jeopardize the whole political process in Congo," he said.

An existing United Nations mission of about 700 peacekeepers has been unable to stop the recent violence in the remote Ituri region.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the rural capital of Bunia. Reports of widespread atrocities and an ethnic dimension to the fighting between Hema and Lendu tribes has led to comparisons to the 1994 massacres in Rwanda.

Mr. de La Sabliere said the U.N. force will have a precise mission for the next three months.

"The force will stabilize the security conditions and improve the humanitarian situation in Bunia," he explained. "The force will protect the airport and the camps of displaced persons in Bunia, and, if necessary, will protect also the civilian population, the U.N. personnel and humanitarian personnel in the city."

Mr. de La Sabliere says the poor condition of the landing strip in Bunia will slow deployment. He says, in addition to France, other European nations, including Britain, and regional countries are expected to contribute troops.

Diplomats are expected to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo next month, as part of a Security Council trip to Central Africa.

A Security Council mission to West Africa has also been rescheduled to begin late June. That trip had been canceled to devote Security Council attention this month to Iraq.

In addition to authorizing a multinational force for Bunia, the Security Council also passed a resolution extending a United Nations mandate for Western Sahara.