|A Moroccan UN patrol in Bunia|
A United Nations peacekeeper from Nepal was killed, and three of his colleagues were injured Thursday, when gunmen in the northeastern district of Ituri attacked the soldiers and human rights investigators they were protecting.
The investigators were following up on reports of abuses by militiamen in the mineral-rich, but war-ravaged district, when gunmen attacked the U.N. helicopters they were traveling in.
The civilians escaped unhurt, but the Nepalese soldiers engaged in a 2.5-hour gun battle, during which, the peacekeepers were wounded. One officer died later, before he could be evacuated to South Africa.
Congo is gradually recovering from a vast war, which sucked in six neighboring countries, and has killed nearly four million people, mostly from hunger and disease.
But Ituri remains lawless, and the U.N. mission is struggling to put an end to the fighting and attacks on civilians, and is itself increasingly becoming a target, despite disarming nearly 15,000 gunmen.
News also emerged Friday that gunmen in Ituri kidnapped a French aid worker from the medical charity, Doctors Without Borders, and his driver.
The organization issued a statement saying that, witnesses saw the agency's car being stopped by armed men who took the staff members out of the vehicle, and led them into the bush.
The organization said it was cooperating with the United Nations to find its employees, and that, so far, no demands had been made for their release.
Congo's transitional government, which brought together the warring factions, political opposition and members of civil society, was due to organize elections by the end of June this year, but insecurity in the east and internal wrangling mean that the polls will be delayed, probably by a year.