The United Nations Ituri brigade, which has replaced the European Union emergency force policing the troubled northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has now reached 2,500, more than half its total expected strength, according to the UN mission in the country.
The UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) reported today that so far, over 2,500 troops from Bangladesh, Uruguay, Indonesia and India have been deployed in Bunia. On the ground, there are also 280 Pakistanis troops. Another 800 are expected to arrive next week. At full strength, the force is expected to have some 4,000 soldiers.
The French-led Interim Emergency Multinational Force (IEMF), dubbed Artemis, was deployed in June to help restore order in Ituri, particularly in the flashpoint town of Bunia, where ethnic clashes between Lendu and Hema clans had killed more than 400 people. The IEMF was scheduled to withdraw on 1 September, but the Security Council subsequently authorized some of the troops to stay behind to help ensure a smooth transition as the UN Mission took over security responsibilities.
The UN Mission's brigade is proceeding with its patrols in Bunia. The opening of schools and the return of people to the market places indicated that people were restoring their confidence in the Mission.
The Ituri brigade has also launched weapons-search operations aimed at making the town weapon-free. This operation is a follow-up to the one launched by the IEMF. Searches are being carried out in houses where the presence of weapons and ammunition are suspected. There are also people who spontaneously come to surrender their weapons and seek protection from the Mission.
In other news, a UN spokesman in New York said the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has confirmed that seven Uruguayan soldiers are under investigation by the UN for stealing from a church in Bunia. Sacred objects, including a chalice, were found in their camp following the allegation of theft from the church earlier this week.
The seven men will be transferred to Kinshasa and could be repatriated to Uruguay for disciplinary action by their national military authorities if the allegations are found to be true. The reports by the Board of Inquiry and the Military Police will be concluded in the coming days.