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Congo Militias Regroup, Recruit and Attack Army, UN


Militia fighters in Congo's wild northeastern Ituri district are regrouping, re-recruiting previously disarmed fighters, and attacking the army. A U.N. spokesman says peacekeepers have fought off two such offensives this week, adding that the failure to offer disarmed fighters better options meant they were taking up guns again.

Fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Ituri has exposed U.N. peacekeepers in Congo at their weakest. Blue Helmets stood by in 2003 while the world witnessed the massacre of hundreds of civilians in fighting between ethnic militias.

But in its most robust response, prompted largely by the killing of nine of their own men, the U.N. force used helicopter gunships and hundreds of soldiers to launch numerous offensives throughout 2005, disarming thousands in the process.

Now, just months before Congo's scheduled elections, U.N. peacekeepers have admitted the militias are back on the offensive and growing in numbers.

A spokesman said the militias are recruiting new fighters, some of whom had entered a disarmament process, but were failing to be re-integrated into society.

Residents in the mineral-rich corner of the Congo have long-complained that projects to provide returning militia fighters with alternative incomes were taking too long to establish and the risk of the former fighters taking up arms again was high.

The United Nations said peacekeepers have had to fight off two attacks this week. Pakistani and Bangladeshi peacekeepers were involved in heavy fighting and have reported dozens of militia killed.

Ituri's conflict is just one part of Congo's wider war, which raged from 1998 until it officially ended in 2003. About four million people have been killed as a result.

The former Zaire is preparing for elections that are meant to draw a line under its chaotic past, giving millions their first chance to choose their own leaders in more than four decades.

But political crises in the capital, the logistical nightmare of holding polls in a vast country without roads, and the violence in the east contribute to making the election the most complicated that U.N. officials say they have tried to organize.