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UN Suspends Aid to Parts of Eastern Congo

U.N. officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo say that humanitarian aid to the eastern city of Rutshuru is being suspended, due to insecurity in the area. Civilians attacked a U.N. peacekeeping force with stones and machetes earlier this week. Brent Latham has more from our West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

The United Nations suspended the aid missions to Rutshuru and surrounding areas, citing the difficulty of dealing with roadblocks, the crowds of civilians, and the lack of security.

Spokeswoman Sylvie Van den Wildenberg said the United Nations was forced to take the measure because of the security situation in the area.

To her knowledge, she said, humanitarian agents had not been deliberately targeted, but that there were instances of aid workers and vehicles being caught up in the violence.

A U.N. World Food Program truck, loaded with food aid, was destroyed in the uprising.

Van den Wildenberg added that it is unfortunate the population would have to pay the price for the violence. But, she said, those were the consequences for expressing discontent in an inappropriate manner.

Reports from the area said thousands of civilians rioted in the wake of confusion over the presence of U.N. peacekeepers in the area.

Military spokesman for the U.N. forces, Jean-Paul Dietrich, said the troops had been called in to replace forces of the Congo government, which had withdrawn.

Dietrich said the government troops' presence there had violated the terms of a cease-fire, and they needed to withdraw to comply with the agreement.

The attacks on the U.N .peacekeepers began late Monday, after they entered the Rutshuru area.

Dietrich explained that the blue helmets had entered as a "separation force," to ensure that the area would not be reoccupied by a paramilitary group active in the area.

The head of the U.N. mission in the DRC, Alan Doss, said the cease-fire between all Congolese parties, known as the AMANI process, must be respected by all.

"More violence is not the answer, but at the same time, there has to be progress in the AMANI process because a cease-fire is fragile," he said.

The conflict in eastern Congo has simmered for more than a decade, even as warfare ended in other parts of the large mineral-rich country. A comprehensive peace agreement, signed in 2003, has proved only partially effective for the large, ethnically diverse eastern area, controlled in parts by a variety of militia and rebel forces.