As a stronger United Nations force prepares to deploy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's volatile northeast - where kidnappings and murders persist outside the flashpoint town of Bunia - the head of the UN mission in the country today strongly condemned the latest killings, which included several relief workers among the dead.
In a statement released in the capital Kinshasa, William Lacy Swing, head of the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC), condemned as a "serious setback" to the Congolese peace and reconciliation process the latest eruption of violence in Ituri and South Kivu, where two separate militia strikes targeted at civilians left nearly 20 people dead.
Mr. Swing was deeply saddened to receive confirmation of the deaths of 11 Congolese taken hostage in Kafulu, in South Kivu. Reports indicate that the individuals were killed on 24 July by the Front for the Defence of Democracy (FDD) and ex-FAR soldiers fighting alongside the Maï-Maï militia in the area. All of the victims worked with the British humanitarian organization Tearfund.
"This tragedy underscores the continuing dangers faced by humanitarian personnel in providing assistance to vulnerable groups," the statement said, expressing Mr. Swing's deepest condolences to Tearfund and to the families of the victims. He called upon all parties to ensure the safety and security of such personnel and urged the competent authorities to investigate this attack and bring those responsible to justice.
The MONUC chief also condemned Tuesday's rebel-led assault on Nyanda - some 20 kilometres northeast of Bunia - which left nine people dead, mostly women and children. He expressly denounced the targeting of innocent civilians and appealed to armed groups to immediately end attacks and join the peace process for the sake of the Congolese people. Residents of Nyanda told a joint MONUC assessment team that armed ethnic Lendu militiamen had launched the attack from a nearby village controlled by the Forces Nationalistes Intergrationnistes (FNI) armed group.
Meanwhile, the mission continues to expand its security presence in the war-torn region, continuing the deployment of its Task Force II in Ituri. In this framework, 506 Bangladeshi troops are already at work in Bunia, in addition to more than 700 Uruguayans already on the ground. Attack helicopters of the Indian forces assembled in Kisangani have arrived in Goma en route to Bunia. These latest moves will pave the way for the handover of command on 15 August and for MONUC staff to take over from the UN-authorized multinational force on 1 September.
MONUC also announced that tomorrow it will complete its pilot police training project for 630 officers in Kisangani, and 270 elements of Rapid Intervention Police (PIR) are set to receive certificates from the Special Representative and the Congolese Minister of Interior.