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Demonstrators Protest UN's Failure to Secure Bukavu, Congo - 2004-06-03

Demonstrations broke out in several cities in the Democratic Republic of Congo to protest the U.N. failure to secure the eastern city of Bukavu against dissident soldiers. In Kinshasa, U.N. troops shot and killed two looters at a U.N. warehouse.

A spokesman for the U.N. operation in Congo, Sebastien Lapierre, confirmed that there were protests.

"There have been protests in Kinshasa, in Lubumbashi, in Kindu and other towns," he said. "I think most of them have been peaceful, so far. They are upset that the legitimate military arm of the Congolese transitional government has been pushed aside or pushed out of Bukavu by some of the dissident elements."

Mr. Lapierre said that the U.N. mission, known as MONUC, is responsible for protecting civilians in Bukavu, but not for defending the town. He said U.N. officials were meeting with members of the dissident army, which took control of Bukavu on Wednesday.

Speaking from the town on the Rwanda border, Mr. Lapierre said the situation is calm, but there is concern for the civilians there.

"Well, the situation right now in Bukavu is very calm from a military point of view," he added. "So, there is no fighting, no shooting, none of that to report. Although it must be said that there is a lot of looting and many reports of rapes in various neighborhoods of the city, which is very worrying. Right now, the U.N. is concentrating its efforts on intervening in each of these cases that it hears [about] in the context of our mandate to protect local populations."

The leader of the renegade army that now controls Bukavu, General Laurent Nkunda, told VOA his force captured the town because of reports that members of the Congolese army there were persecuting members of the Tutsi ethnic-minority group Banyamulenge. He particularly blames the commander of government troops in the town, General Mbuza Mabe.

"When I came, I arrested the genocide and there is not any violence today," he said. "Now, we came and we fight against Mbuza Mabe, but the other people, like police and administration, they are working without problems, and we ask the government to appoint another divisional commander, who will secure the population."

General Nkunda says he organized his troops when he heard 27 Banyamulenge had been killed in Bukavu. He says he is still loyal to the Congolese transitional government.

Congolese President Joseph Kabila accused Rwanda of involvement in the unrest in Bukavu. Rwandan Foreign Minister Charles Muligande strongly denied the accusations, but warned that Rwanda will protect its borders.

"As it was before, we were not afraid that it would spill over to Rwanda, because this was purely an internal matter, Congolese fighting Congolese," said Mr. Muligande. "But given the statement made by President Kabila, who has identified Rwanda as the enemy, definitely, we would be concerned that the violence would spill over to Rwanda. But we will take any necessary measure to prevent this from happening and we believe we have the capacity to protect our territory."

A peace agreement implemented last year ended five years of civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and led to the creation of a transitional government. However, there is still tension among the various factions that came together in the peace accord and there is concern that the peace process is highly unstable.