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UN Vows to Continue Peace Mission in Congo's Ituri Province


United Nations officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo say they will press on with their mission in the troubled northeastern Ituri Province, despite repeated attacks on U.N. peacekeepers by rival ethnic Hema and Lendu militias.

The latest attack occurred Monday, as U.N. personnel descended from a helicopter near the town of Drodro, where the U.N. mission has its regional base. They were on a reconnaissance patrol as part of a wider mission to organize the disarmament of militia in the area. The attackers were chased away, and there were no reported U.N. casualties.

This was the third such incident in a week within a 40-kilometer radius of Bunia town. U.N. officials say the previous two were likely carried out by ethnic Hema militia belonging to the Union of Congolese Patriots and by Lendu fighters.

U.N. officials say the continuing attacks pose a major problem for U.N. troops trying to control the bushlands surrounding Bunia. They also blame the attacks for delays in the deployment of peacekeepers throughout the entire Ituri province.

Leaders of both Hema and Lendu militias have promised to rein in their troops before the disarmament process, but they continue to complain that they are unable to pin down uncontrolled elements.

The war in Ituri, a province roughly the size of Liberia, has claimed 50,000 lives since 1999 and is part of Congo's wider war in which an estimated three million died in the past five years. Neighboring Rwanda and Uganda, which played a part in the war, are believed to continue arming and training Hema and Lendu militias.

The war officially ended last July, but many armed groups are still roaming the east, beyond the control of more than 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers. Disarming ethnic warriors and reintegrating them into regular army is progressing at a much slower pace than previously anticipated.

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