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Bunia Tense As French Troops Arrive in War-Torn Congolese Town

The first soldiers of an international force have arrived in the town of Bunia in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The troops are being sent to stop fighting between rival ethnic militias in northeastern Congo.

Forty French troops arrived in Bunia. France is supplying the largest share, 1,000 troops, of the 1,400-strong peacekeeping force being sent to Congo.

The troops, led by French General Jean-Paul Thonier, will bolster a small U.N. force that has been unable to stop fighting between ethnic Lendu and Hema militias that has left hundreds of people dead.

Hema forces currently control Bunia, and their leaders have promised to cooperate with the French peacekeepers, but the town remains tense. Fighting last broke out on Saturday when the Lendu tried to reassert their presence in the town.

The arrival of the French troops in Bunia coincides with diplomatic efforts to bring peace to Congo. A delegation from the U.N. Security Council, led by the French ambassador to the United Nations, Jean Marie De la Sabliere, arrived in Kinshasa Tuesday.

The delegation will be in the Congolese capital for two days to monitor the power-sharing negotiations between the government of President Joseph Kabila and the main rebel groups that, with the backing of Uganda and Rwanda, have been at war with Kinshasa since 1998.

The power-sharing negotiations themselves have been slowed down by squabbling over the composition of a new national army. Rebel groups are annoyed at the government's attempts to keep hold of all the top military posts in the country, including chief of the land forces.

In addition to disputes over the make-up of the army, renewed fighting in Kivu province, southwest of Bunia, between forces of the Rally for Congolese Democracy, the main rebel group, and militias backed by the government, has threatened to throw the negotiations off track for a third time in six weeks.

After Kinshasa, the Security Council delegation will fly on to Bunia to monitor the arrival of further French troops and to assess the situation on the ground.