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Attack Leaves 14 Civilians Dead in Northern Congo - 2004-09-20

Fourteen people, mostly women and children, have been killed in a massacre in the Democratic Republic of Congo's troubled northeastern district of Ituri.

A week after a United Nations disarmament plan for militia in Congo's Ituri district was launched, 14 civilians have been killed in a raid on a village in the war-ravaged northeast.

Survivors of the attack on the village of Lengabo, 10 kilometers from Bunia, the capital of Itrui, told the U.N. Monday that up to 300 heavily armed men launched a raid, shooting and burning their victims, most of them women and children.

Rachel Eklou, spokeswoman for the U.N. mission in Bunia, said that peacekeepers were deployed to the village in the early hours of Monday morning, but the attackers had fled by the time they arrived.

She said that the attackers were from the Ngiti ethnic group and the victims had been mostly Bira.

The district remains one of the most volatile in Congo after the 1998-2002 war. There are now seven armed factions, mostly divided between the Hema and Lendu tribes, fighting over natural resources and land.

Monday's attack does not fit in to the traditional Hema - Lendu rivalry, but it underlines the challenges facing the disarmament program.

Almost half of the 10,800 U.N. peacekeepers in Congo are deployed in Ituri. They have brought some stability to the main towns such as Bunia, but have been unable to stop rival groups killing each other elsewhere.

There are up to 50,000 militia men roaming around this lawless but resource rich north eastern corner of the country. The warlords have officially signed up to a deal that should see them lay down their weapons in return for their participation in the wider Congolese peace process.

But precious few weapons have been handed in during the first week as gunmen fear laying down their weapons before their demands are met and rival factions do the same.

Congo is struggling to emerge from a wider five year war that sucked in six neighboring countries and killed three million people, mostly from hunger and disease.