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UN Official:  More Troops May be Needed to Defend UN Facilities in Congo - 2004-06-03

A U.N. official says more troops may be needed to prevent violence against United Nations facilities in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Scores of people have died in a week of fighting between Congolese army troops and ethnic Tutsi rebels, in the worst violence the country has seen since the end of the civil war two years ago.

U.N. troops fought to regain control in several cities across the Democratic Republic of Congo, as some protesters ransacked U.N. warehouses and others held demonstrations.

Many are angry that U.N. forces were not able to prevent the city of Bukavu in eastern Congo from falling to rebel troops on Tuesday.

The U.N. Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, recently returned from a trip to assess the situation, and says the U.N. peacekeeping force, known as MONUC, is stretched too thin.

"I think it is likely that we may need more troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It depends on what the mandate the Security Council will give us for the next phase of MONUC, but I think if we want to keep the momentum it is quite possible that we need more troops.

Mr. Guehénno said that the U.N. troops have done all they can, but he says controlling Bukavu, a city of 500,000 people, is not easy, nor is guaranteeing peace in the entire country.

"When you look at the expanse of Congo, and I don't need to remind you that this is the size of the whole of Western Europe basically, it's clear that with a force of 10,000 you can only go so far," he said.

Congolese President Joseph Kabila has said the capture of Bukavu is "an aggression against our country by Rwandans." Rwanda's foreign minister responded, said any attack on the Tutsi rebels would be tantamount to ethnic cleansing or genocide.

Mr. Guéhenno added that the United Nations has not yet seen evidence of targeted ethnic killings on either side.

"There may have been some isolated killings and we are investigating them, but nothing of a systematic nature," he said. "But I think one has to be extremely careful there. It is a powder keg and so it's very important for all players there not to play that ethnic card so it's very important for everybody to use restraint."

The U.N. official called on Rwandan and Congolese leaders to use their influence to restore peace among the fighting parties.