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UN Abandons Massacre Investigation in DRC - 2004-02-05

An attack on a U.N. boat convoy in the Democratic Republic of Congo has forced U.N. officials to abandon a mission to investigate reports of a massacre in the troubled Ituri district.

U.N. officials based in the Ituri district capital, Bunia, are still working out how to push through difficult and militia-infested terrain, after their verification mission came under fire from armed militiamen on Lake Albert. Five speed boats, escorted by U.N. troops, had been dispatched onto Lake Albert to investigate an alleged massacre in the lakeside town of Gobu, about 50 kilometers northeast of Bunia.

The United Nations had received reports in late January that ethnic militiamen had hijacked a boat on Lake Albert with about 190 people on board, killed 100 men, abducted all the women, and stole the cargo.

U.N. troops took over from a French-led peacekeeping force in Bunia last September, with a mandate to bring peace to Ituri. The province has been racked by years of conflict between Rwandan-and Ugandan-backed ethnic Hema and Lendu militias. The conflict in Ituri has claimed about 50,000 lives since 1999.

A wider civil war in Congo was officially declared over last July. Most of the 4,800 U.N. troops allocated to Ituri have not deployed beyond a 60 kilometer radius of Bunia. In recent weeks, Ituri militias have slowed down deployments by stepping up their attacks on U.N. troops.

In another development, the eastern town of Bukavu was rocked by gunfire Wednesday between rival factions in the Congolese army. That fighting claimed the life of a soldier and injured a civilian.

The battle was between troops loyal to General Prosper Nabyolwa, the military regional commander of South Kivu province, and troops loyal to Colonel Georges Mirindi, a former Rwandan-backed rebel and brigade leader.

Analysts caution the continuing violence in South Kivu makes it difficult to carry out the government's plans for national military integration.