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UN Promises Action on Congo Massacre - 2003-10-08

Top United Nations officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo have promised to bring the perpetrators of Monday's massacre in the northeastern province of Ituri to justice. U.N. troops, which are based in Ituri's principal town of Bunia, will begin their deployment into the surrounding countryside next week, in order to put an end to continuing violence.

The U.N. condemnation follows the massacre of at least 65 civilians, the majority of whom were children, 60 kilometers northeast of Bunia town on Monday, in the hamlet of Katshelli.

The violence is part of Ituri's conflict between ethnic Hema and Lendu militias, backed by Rwanda, different factions of the Ugandan army and the Congolese government. So far 50,000 lives have been lost in the bid to control Ituri, which is rich in gold diamonds and coltan.

U.N. troops took over from a French-led European force in September, and are mandated to deploy outside Bunia and into Ituri, roughly the size of Sierra Leone. The so called Ituri Brigade will eventually number 5,000 soldiers, although only 3,000 are on the ground so far.

William Swing, the head of the U.N. mission in Congo, and General Mountaga Diallo, the mission's commander, said Wednesday they would find and punish the perpetrators. But they were not able to confirm who the perpetrators of the attack are. Most of the victims were from the cattle rearing Hema tribe.

Both men said the U.N. would begin its deployment next week. Pakistani peacekeepers will be sent north of Bunia, into the zone where Katshelli is located. Bangladeshi soldiers would be deployed south of Bunia into predominantly Lendu areas.

However, General Diallo made it clear that it would take until November for U.N. troops to be deployed in the furthest reaches of the Ituri region. His deputy commander, Jan Isberg, had said earlier it would take six months to bring peace to the war stricken province.

In the meantime, Mr. Swing said he personally will be visiting Katshelli this weekend and will meet leaders of Hema and Lendu armed groups that are represented in a permanent council based in Bunia.

Mr. Swing said the continuing violence was a challenge for the United Nations peacekeepers and to the new Congolese government.

The new government has put an end to Congo's wider war that began in 1998 and claimed over three million lives. Its goal now is to lead the country to elections in two years.