Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to help the United Nations track down the unidentified militia members who ambushed and murdered nine Bangladeshi peacekeepers serving in the country's remote northeast – the worst-ever attack against the UN's forces in the DRC.
Condemning the slayings, Mr. Annan offered his condolences to the families of the nine soldiers, who were part of a larger company that had been trying to protect internally displaced persons (IDPs) from harassment by local militias near Kafé in the Ituri district.
The Secretary-General also stressed that the attack will not deter the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) – one of the world body's largest peacekeeping missions, with almost 14,000 troops – from carrying out its mandate to help advance the nation's peace process.
UN spokesman Fred Eckhard told the daily briefing in New York that the troops had been on a patrol to camps believed to belong to a local militia that had refused to take part in disarmament and reintegration programmes when they were ambushed and fired upon.
He said it remains unclear who is responsible for the attack, but MONUC has begun a probe and believes the ambush is a direct response to peacekeepers' attempts in Ituri to prevent militias there from terrorizing civilians, looting their belongings and forcing them to pay illegal taxes.
Two platoons of UN troops were sent to the area where the peacekeepers were murdered to secure it and to protect the survivors of the ambush.
Questioned by reporters today, Mr. Annan said he was extremely saddened by the troops' deaths. "They are good peacekeepers, and I am sorry it had to end like this," he said.
His spokesman also issued a statement calling on the DRC's Transitional Government to "make every effort to find and hold accountable those responsible for this reprehensible and criminal attack."
MONUC has been operating in the DRC since November 1999, but the country continues to be riven by deadly inter-ethnic violence. About 3.8 million people are estimated to have been killed in the past six years: some of them murdered but many more dead from disease or starvation. Malnutrition is widespread, many schools and hospitals have been destroyed, and parts of the country are considered largely lawless.