Fri, Aug 03, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Protest forces UN to evacuate staff from Congo town


The UN evacuated dozens of staff on Wednesday from a remote Democratic Republic of the Congo town after mobs of stone-throwing protesters angry over the possible return of refugees from a minority ethnic group ransacked UN and other humanitarian agencies there, officials said.

Four unarmed UN military observers were wounded in the violence and flown by helicopter from the Lake Tanganyika town of Moba along with 30 civilian UN personnel by a contingent of Bangladeshi troops, said Major Gabriel de Brosses, a spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force in Congo.

The protesters, angry over rumors of the return of ethnic Congolese Tutsis, or Banyamulenge, looted a house used by the UN observers and wrecked the offices of the UN refugee agency and other aid groups, de Brosses said.

Thousands of Banyamulenge fled Congo for neighboring nations during back-to-back wars that began in 1996 and ended in 2002.

Ethnic Tutsis are a minority in the country, as they are in Rwanda and Burundi.

The Banyamulenge minority have been distrusted by many in recent years for their links with local rebel leaders as well as with Rwanda's powerful Tutsi leaders, who ended the 1994 genocide in Rwanda of more than half a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus by extremist Hutus.

Perpetue Kapindo Tundwa, a parliamentarian from Moba, confirmed by telephone Wednesday's violence and said local aid groups had been interviewing residents about the possible return of Banyamulenge refugees to the region.

There are no plans to return them at the moment, Tundwa said.

De Brosse said soldiers from Congo's army fired shots in the air to disperse a crowd of around 1,000 people.

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