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UN Peacekeepers Clash with Former Rebel Troops in Democratic Republic of Congo - 2004-04-06

UN peacekeepers clashed with former rebel troops late Monday in the eastern city of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo, leaving one Congolese soldier dead. The country is on high alert following an alleged coup attempt at the end of March.

UN officials said the shootout occurred in Kisangani after Moroccan peacekeepers went near a house of a senior commander of the formerly Rwandan-backed RCD-Goma rebel brigade to investigate reports of a weapons cache. The peacekeepers were fired on and returned fire. The United Nations says one Congolese soldier was killed in the gunfight.

Almost 11,000 UN peacekeepers are in Congo to monitor a peace agreement that ended five years of civil war and set up a provisional power-sharing government.

But there are growing concerns about whether various former rebel factions can work together. RCD-Goma, which is accused by certain Congolese factions of hoarding weapons and gearing up for an attack on rival groups, has threatened to pull out of the government.

Congolese troops are being integrated into a new unified brigade made up of former government loyalists and Ugandan and Rwandan backed rebels, but several thousand troops around the country, and especially around Kinshasa, have not been disarmed or integrated into the regular army.

The UN Security Council last month voiced concern about the demobilization process, saying it lacks a clear plan and has insufficient financial and logistical support. Meanwhile, Congo's parliament is bogged down in political squabbling and civil servants are on strike. In large portions of the country's east, tribal fighting between rival ethnic groups and clashes of armed groups and rag-tag militia continue.