United Nations peacekeeping officials say neighboring countries are arming and supplying militias in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly in the Ituri region.  U.N. troops killed at least 50 militiamen Tuesday when the peacekeepers came under attack during a search operation. U.N. officials say the situation in the Ituri region has been deteriorating since December.

The peackeeping officials say the clashes between U.N. troops and local militia are a result of increased violence in the Ituri region of Congo. They say the peacekeepers were on a mission to recover and dismantle weapons when they came under heavy fire outside of a village and responded, killing members of the militia known by its French acronym, FNI.  U.N. officials say the search operation had been planned in advance and was not in retaliation for the ambush last week that killed nine peacekeepers from Bangladesh.

Margaret Carey is deputy director of the U.N. peacekeeping department's Africa division. She says the FNI militiamen were well trained and organized in their attack on the peacekeepers.

"The information that we have is that they are getting arms from neighboring countries and they are supported by elements in neighboring countries as well as elements in the DRC outside of Ituri," she added.  "Ituri is an extremely resource rich area of the Congo that has always been kind of a no-man's land. Basically, the main objective is the economic resources there and the wealth that they can derive from those economic resources. Exactly who is training them, I do not have that kind of intelligence. But we do know that they are being supplied from across borders and that there are contacts and links between them and elements in Kinshasa and in the neighboring countries.''
Earlier on Thursday, Secretary General Kofi Annan suggested more peacekeepers may be needed in the DRC. But Ms. Carey says the peacekeeping mission's greatest need is for increased intelligence capabilities, particularly air surveillance and listening capabilities, to monitor an arms embargo.