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Congo Government to Send More Soldiers East After UN Killings

The Congolese government says it will send 3,000 more soldiers into the war-torn Congolese district of Ituri, days after nine U.N. peacekeepers were ambushed and executed by unknown gunmen there. Officials in the mineral-rich, but war-torn district are also in the throes of containing an outbreak of plague.

Under intense pressure from the international community to track down the perpetrators of last week's killing of nine Bangladeshi peacekeepers in Congo's troubled Ituri district, the government announced it would send 3,000 reinforcements to the east.

The soldiers will investigate the killings and are to arrest those responsible for the attack, Jean-Pierre Bemba, one of the country's vice-presidents, told reporters in Kinshasa.

The attack has rocked the U.N. mission and again highlighted the challenge faced by the peacekeepers and the government in pacifying the mineral-rich district, where ethnic conflict has killed at least 50,000 people since 1999.

Both the U.N. mission and the government have launched investigations into the attack, but neither has publicly said who they believe is responsible.

Ituri is controlled by several ethnic-based militias, who have long been accused of exploiting the war to control cross-border trade with Uganda and levy taxes on the district's rich gold and diamond mines.

But foreign diplomats who met the country's president and four vice presidents demanded that the armed groups lay down their weapons, put an end to their criminal activities, and stop blocking peace efforts.

They went as far as naming six political and military leaders they accused of profiteering from the conflict, although some of them have just been made generals in Congo's army in an attempt to forge reconciliation.

Meanwhile, in a sign of the disastrous impact years of war has had on the country's social services, aid agencies say a plague outbreak in Ituri is continuing to claim victims, but appears to have been confined to the diamond mine it initially broke out in.

Doctors say the outbreak of plague, which is highly contagious if untreated and can kill in 48 hours, has claimed more than 60 lives and infected up to 400 in two months.

Congo is struggling to recover from five years of war. The conflict still simmers, killing an estimated 1,000 people every day, mainly from hunger and disease, adding to the estimate of nearly four million dead since 1998.