KINSHASA, 28 Feb 2005 (IRIN) - The first brigade of the integrated Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) began military operations on Monday, cracking down on armed groups in the northeastern district of Ituri, Defence Minister Adolphe Onusumba told IRIN.
"Killings like the one of nine blue helmets in Kafe village on Friday shall not be repeated," Onusumba said.
He was referring to the ambush of Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers in which militiamen killed nine of them and wounded 11 others.
Onusumba is heading a government delegation that is assessing the situation in Ituri.
"We want to make it clear to the armed groups that we fervently condemn such acts," he said. "From now on we will track them down - we will have them submit to the state authority and judicial process will follow suit."
He added that the killers of the UN troops had not yet been identified.
Belgian instructors trained the army brigade of about 3,000 men in Kisangani, the capital of Orientale Province. The brigade has been stationed in Ituri, but had not yet become operational when the killings occurred.
"The brigade will work hand in hand with the UN peacekeeping troops," Onusumba said.
Immediately after Friday's ambush, the UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, reinforced its troops on the ground with the support of attack and transport helicopters, MONUC's chief of information, Kemal Saiki, said.
"Control and safety operations are underway in search of the assailants," Saiki said. "The premeditated attack follows numerous actions by MONUC in Ituri, which aimed to neutralise the militants who live on illegal revenues and looting and terrorising the population."
He said the nine peacekeepers killed were on foot patrol in two groups totalling 21 men.
Congolese Information Minister Henri Mova Sakanyi said a second brigade would be formed and deployed to Ituri.
However, an inquiry into who killed the UN peacekeepers is underway, he said.
On Friday in New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed to all parties in the Congo to "refrain from all these sort of brutal acts".
He added: "We will continue our work and I would urge the Congolese government to work with us in tracking down the perpetrators of this brutal murder so they can be brought to account."
Annan said he was saddened by the death of the UN peacekeepers.
"I send my deepest sympathies to their families and to the government and to the people of Bangladesh," he said. "They are good peacekeepers, and I am sorry it had to end like this."