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UN Peacekeepers Concerned About Troop Movements, Clashes in E. Congo - 2004-04-15


Large militia troop movements and clashes in Congo's eastern provinces and districts are causing concern for U.N. peacekeepers, at a time the country's power-sharing government is entangled in political squabbling.

U.N. peacekeepers are investigating large scale troop movements in the volatile Ituri district of eastern Congo where militias continue to terrorize the population.

Ethnic militias clashed in the Ituri district capital of Bunia late Tuesday leaving one militia officer dead. The clash comes months after U.N. troops deployed to Bunia to protect the surrounding mineral rich district of Ituri from attacks by rival ethnic Hema and Lendu militiamen.

Almost half the U.N.'s 10,800 troops in Congo have been sent to the Ituri district, where fighting between rival militias has claimed over 50,000 lives since 1999. Coordinated attacks against U.N. troops have been increasing in recent weeks outside Bunia, and violence in town still persists despite an official U.N. no-weapons rule.

Hema and Lendu militias, backed by Rwanda and Uganda, have continued to voice their discontent with Congo's power-sharing government, which officially ended Congo's wider five-year war nine months ago. Both Hema and Lendu militia leaders say that Congo's new government excludes them from the transitional government set up to guide the country to democratic elections next year.

In northern Ituri, Jerome Kakwavu, Congo's last remaining warlord, operates beyond the control of U.N. peacekeepers. He is resisting the transitional government's attempt to replace his customs officials on the Ugandan border.

Meanwhile in Kinshasa, Congo's power-sharing government is beginning to unravel in political squabbling over a range of issues, including the appointment of regional governors.

Over three million people died throughout Congo's murderous war, which sucked in half a dozen of neighboring countries.