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Doctors Without Borders Calls on UN, EU to Extend Congo Peacekeeping Force's Mandate - 2003-07-25


An international humanitarian agency is warning that there will be more violence in northeastern Congo if the term of an international peacekeeping force is not extended.

Officials of Doctors Without Borders are calling on UN and European Union officials to extend the mandate of the 2,100 peacekeeping troops currently stationed in the northeastern Congo town of Bunia.

The UN Security Council is scheduled to meet next week on the future of the Democratic Republic of Congo. A spokesman for the medical relief group Doctors Without Borders, Michel Clerc, says the troops are still very much needed in the town of Bunia and the surrounding Ituri region.

Mr. Clerc said, "For us, it is clear that any vacuum or inappropriate decisions taken by the Security Council could lead to further massacres. That is why we are now voicing our concerns about the future of Bunia, the people in Bunia, and also in the region."

Mr. Clerc made his remarks as his group released a report about the security and humanitarian situation in the Ituri region and its capital, Bunia.

Although Doctors Without Borders called for the troops' term to be extended, it also had harsh words for what the report describes as the force's inadequacy to protect civilians and provide humanitarian access to troubled areas.

The report also accuses UN troops of broadcasting false information on the UN radio station, Radio Okapi, claiming Bunia is safe and secure. Mr. Clerc says murder, massacres, and intimidation continue at night in Bunia.

"Most of the people coming back that I have interviewed would tell me," Mr. Clerc said, "we heard on Radio Okapi, which is the radio that now, that the multinational force is in Bunia, it is ok for us to go back. There is security. But when they arrive, definitely, they find no protection and no assistance."

Officials at Radio Okapi could not be reached to respond to the charge.

The people of Bunia and the Ituri region have experienced horrific suffering in recent months. On Monday, the mutilated bodies of 22 civilians were discovered in Nizi, a village 22 kilometers north of Bunia. In May, more than 230 mutilated bodies were discovered in Bunia itself.

Doctors Without Borders says many people in the region have suffered the loss of their homes, some are ill or starving and many women have been raped. The group called on the international community to provide food and other aid to the traumatized population.

The war pits members of the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups against one another in their bid to control Bunia. The fighting is complicated by the presence of many rebel and militia groups, which have received assistance from the Congo government, Uganda and Rwanda.