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UN Gunboat Attacked In DRC - 2004-02-05


An attack on a U-N boat convoy in the Democratic Republic of Congo has forced U-N officials to abandon a mission to investigate reports of a massacre in the troubled Ituri district.

U-N officials based in the Ituri district capital, Bunia, are still working out how to push through difficult and militia-infested terrain, after their verification mission came under fire from armed militiamen on Lake Albert.

Five speed boats, escorted by U-N troops, had been dispatched onto Lake Albert to investigate an alleged massacre in the lakeside town of Gobu, about 50-kilometers northeast of Bunia.

The United Nations had received reports in late January that ethnic militiamen had hijacked a boat on Lake Albert with about 190 people on board, killed 100 men, abducted all the women, and stole the cargo.

U-N troops took over from a French-led peacekeeping force in Bunia last September, with a mandate to bring peace to Ituri. The province has been racked by years of conflict between Rwandan-and Ugandan-backed ethnic Hema and Lendu militias. The conflict in Ituri has claimed about 50-thousand lives since 1999.

A wider civil war in Congo was officially declared over last July.

Most of the 48-hundred U-N troops allocated to Ituri have not deployed beyond a 60-kilometer radius of Bunia. In recent weeks, Ituri militias have slowed down deployments by stepping up their attacks on U-N troops.

In another development, the eastern town of Bukavu was rocked by gunfire Wednesday between rival factions in the Congolese army. That fighting claimed the life of a soldier and injured a civilian.

The battle was between troops loyal to General Prosper Nabyolwa, the military regional commander of South Kivu province, and troops loyal to Colonel Georges Mirindi, a former Rwandan-backed rebel and brigade leader.

Analysts caution the continuing violence in South Kivu makes it difficult to carry out the government's plans for national military integration.

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