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UN Mission Searches Villages In Congo For Rebels


UN Mission Searches Villages In Eastern Dr Of Congo For Rebel Holdouts

With one rebel group refusing to join the disarmament programme in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), some 800 United Nations peacekeepers looked for militia members in villages in the northeastern Ituri district over the weekend, returning fire and sending some armed people fleeing.

In the cordon and search operation, the equivalent of a reinforced battalion from Bangladesh, Morocco, Pakistan and South Africa and a helicopter gunship from India searched Bolonzabo and Khodeza, two villages about 40 kilometres southwest of Ituri's capital, Bunia, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard told journalists at the daily briefing at UN Headquarters in New York.

He reported the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) saying the two villages sheltered members of the Ituri Patriotic Resistance Front (FRPI), which refused to take part in the disarmament and re-integration programme that ended last Friday.

"The peacekeepers were fired upon by armed parties and they returned fire. There were no peacekeeper casualties sustained during the operation," he said.

Initial reports indicated that some militia members fled ahead of the peacekeepers' arrival, Mr. Eckhard said.

"The operation falls within the UN Mission's aim of acting vigorously against those armed groups in Ituri which refuse to disarm and, consequently, pose a threat to the civilian population," he said.

According to a report to the Security Council, the FRPI is dominated by fighters from the Lendu and related Ngiti ethnic groups, which have fought the Hema over Lendu land.

Meanwhile, MONUC said its new force commander, Lt. Gen. Babacar Gaye of Senegal, took office today in the DRC capital, Kinshasa.

After training in France, General Gaye racked up 33 years of service in the Senegalese armed forces, where he was chief of staff from 2000 to 2003. Much decorated, he took part in UN missions in Sinai and Lebanon and in Desert Storm in Iraq.

He was also ambassador to Germany, Austria and the Vienna-based UN agencies last year.

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