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Armed group kills 8 UN peacekeepers in Garamba park

KINSHASA, 23 Jan 2006 (IRIN) - An armed, unidentified group killed eight peacekeepers from Guatemala and injured five others on Monday, during an ambush in Garamba National Park, in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) near the borders of Sudan and Uganda, according to the United Nations Mission in the DRC (MONUC).

MONUC spokesman Kemal Saiki said the ambush occurred in Aba, north of Bunia, the main town in Ituri district, Orientale province.

"We have yet to confirm the identity of those behind the attack," Saiki said, "but we have received reports of the presence of fighters from the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army [LRA] in the region."

The injured peacekeepers were evacuated to a hospital in Bunia.

Jennifer Bakody, MONUC's spokeswoman in Bunia, said, "The peacekeepers were part of a special operation launched about 10 days ago in Garamba Park. After encountering an armed group in the early-morning hours, a firefight erupted. The fighting lasted about four hours, until the arrival of a contingent of Nepalese peacekeepers from MONUC."

The Nepalese peacekeepers were airlifted to the scene via helicopter to secure the area.

In September 2005, about 400 LRA rebels sought refuge in the national park during a joint offensive launched against the insurgency by the Sudanese and Ugandan armies. At the request of the DRC government, MONUC deployed peacekeepers to the region in November 2005, following reports that an LRA contingent, led by second-in-command Vincent Otti, had crossed into Congolese territory.

The Congolese army declared that it had successfully deployed a brigade in November 2005 to flush out the rebels, and MONUC confirmed their report.

In February 2005, an unidentified armed group killed nine MONUC troops Ituri. In all, 12 peacekeepers were killed in military operations in the DRC during 2005.

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