Fri, May 16, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Fighting in Congo rages out of control of UN forces


Rival tribesmen battled with guns and machetes in east Congo outside UN offices jammed with more than 10,000 terrorized civilians. The UN scrambled to assemble an international force to end the bloodshed.

The fighting in Bunia killed at least 10 people on Wednesday -- including women and children. Most victims were hit by mortar fire as they crowded around the UN compound in Bunia.

As the violence raged, Britain confirmed it was considering a UN request to send troops, while France said it had been asked to send a battalion of up to 1,000 troops. Uganda said it was willing to send its troops back to Congo as UN peacekeepers, if asked.

A Western diplomat at the UN said the French had approached other African countries, India and Pakistan about participating.

Rival Hema and Lendu fighters have battled in Bunia for a week, leaving scores dead as they vied for dominance in the power vacuum left by the May 7 withdrawal of the last of 6,000 troops from neighboring Uganda.

Rotting bodies lay in the streets and near homes. Two Red Cross workers were killed on Tuesday as they collected some of the corpses, officials of a local rights group, Justice Plus, said.

As Congo appealed for a massive international deployment, an overwhelmed 625-man Uruguayan UN contingent shot automatic rifles into the air as fighting crept nearer the UN-held airport and base.

Wednesday's fighting saw mortar rounds slam within 15m of the compound, Tome said.

"I saw only civilians, poor women killed with their children," said Michel Kassa, a UN coordinator of humanitarian affairs.

Uganda's pullout came as part of peace deals meant to end the five-year, six-nation war in Congo, Africa's third-largest nation. Relief groups estimate the war killed as many as 3 million people, most of them civilians.

In Kinshasa, Congo's capital, government spokesman Kikaya Bin Karubi appealed to the UN to send an intervention force -- rather than the stretched-thin observation force now in place.

Uganda and Rwanda and their rebel allies held eastern Congo during the war. The two countries each accuse the other of backing rival sides in the Ituri province conflicts.

Bloody turf battles between Lendu and Hema fighters have made the lawless province a flashpoint. A series of such skirmishes in April killed more than 1,000 civilians.

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