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Killings Continue Outside DRCongo Town of Bunia

As a stronger U.N. force prepares to deploy in the northeastern Congo town of Bunia, killings continue outside the town where militiamen continue to operate without any force to contain them.

A French-led force from the European Union has been protecting the civilians inside Bunia, but has been unable to restore order in the countryside, where ethnic Hema and Lendu militia continue to ravage villages.

The European force is preparing to leave by early September, and will be replaced by a stronger U.N. force. The U.N. Security Council has authorized the expansion of its force in Congo to nearly 4,000 troops. They are expected to be deployed throughout the large, mineral-rich province of Ituri, which surrounds Bunia.

The troops will be mainly Bangladeshi soldiers, and they will have a new mandate, allowing them to open fire to complete their mission. Currently there are about 500 Bangladeshi troops in Bunia, but they have not started their routine patrols, even inside the town.

For the moment, little has been done to contain the violence that continues beyond the relative security of Bunia. In the last few days, Lendu militia have driven south toward Bunia, backed by what terrorized villagers identify as heavilly armed military men. The militia have ransacked Hema villages north of Bunia, killing many people with guns and machetes, burning down houses, and running away with cattle.

The conflict between the Hema and Lendu tribes in Ituri is a long-festering dispute over the control of land. Both groups have been manipulated by factions of the Ugandan and Rwandan armies, in their bid to dominate the gold, diamond and coltan deposits found in the region. Coltan is a mineral in high demand for use in mobile phones.

The conflict has claimed more than 50,000 lives in the last five years.

The Democratic Republic of Congo's new government has not been able to stop the fighting. The new government brings together officials of the former government and the leaders of key rebel groups, also backed by Rwanda and Uganda.

The Lendu militia offensive was in a way made worse by the deployment of the foreign forces. The European troops were able to control the prinicpal Hema militia, which was based inside Bunia. That left the Lendu unchecked in the hills to the north and south.

In recent days, the Lendu militia launched a large attack on the town of Fataki, about 80 kilometers north of Bunia. People fleeing the town reported more than 100 people were killed and many were abducted.

French soldiers report that on Tuesday, another attack on a small village only 15 kilometers north of Bunia killed 10 civilians. The French troops responded beyond their mandate to show their presence in the village and to deter any further attacks.

Some elements of the Hema militia are also operating in the hills around Bunia.

Meanwhile, humanitarian agencies remain frustrated at the lack of security for the delivery of relief supplies. They may have to wait another month for any significant improvement, as will the local villagers, until the U.N. force reaches full strength and can start operating in the Ituri province countryside.