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UN Investigating Possible Assassination Attempt Against Senior Congo Military Commander - 2004-01-30

The United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo is investigating a possible assassination attempt against a senior Congolese military commander in the eastern city of Kisangani. General Joseph Padiri, who is in charge of Congo's first united military brigade, says his convoy was attacked with grenades and a rocket launcher late Thursday as it passed through the city.

U.N. radio, local witnesses and General Padiri himself confirmed that two grenades and a rocket narrowly missed hitting his car. The general says one of the grenades hit an escort car injuring two officers, one of them seriously.

The attack has sparked concerns of a possible assassination attempt. But some senior Congolese officials say the grenades were detonated accidentally by members of General Padiri's entourage.

Still, tension is high in Kisangani, the scene of some of Congo's worst massacres during the five-year war from 1998 to 2003, a war that had claimed some three million lives.

General Padiri, a Mai Mai tribal warrior, fought off Rwandan backed Congolese rebels on behalf of the previous government. Now, he is part of the transitional government established to shepherd Congo to elections in two years.

In October of last year, he was named the top commander for Orientale province, with his base in the provincial capital, Kisangani. His first unified Congolese brigade of more than 3,000 troops is currently being trained, partly for deployment in the large, troubled district of Ituri, which is part of Orientale province.

Violence in Ituri between ethnic Hema and Lendu militias has claimed more than 50,000 lives since 1999, and was the country's most recent flashpoint -- a war within Congo's wider war. U.N. troops there have not been able to control the troubled district, with the most recent massacre, of some 100 people, just two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the political process is moving slowly, with the various former-rebel groups and former-government factions working against each other. This is raising tensions in the provinces, where tens of thousands of fighters from all sides of the conflict, who want to be part of the new Congolese army, are still waiting.