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Fighting between UN troops, militias leaves 50 dead

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KINSHASA, 2 Mar 2005 (IRIN) - At least 50 militiamen were killed during fighting between Pakistani UN troops and elements suspected to have killed nine UN peacekeepers on 25 February, Gen Jean-Francois Collot d'Escuries, the chief of staff of the UN peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo, known as MONUC, told IRIN.

The fighting took place at Loga village, 30 km northeast of Bunia, the main town in the troubled northeastern district of Ituri.

"The casualties include two wounded blue helmets and about 50 people who were identified as militias," Collot d'Escuries said.

The wounded peacekeepers suffered minor wounds in the face and were evacuated to Pretoria, South Africa, for treatment.

"Their life is not in danger," he said.

He accused the militias of hiding behind civilians during the armed confrontation.

"We have proof that the civilian population was used as human shields," he added.

The latest MONUC operation follows the killing of nine Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers by militias of the predominantly Lendu Front nationaliste integrationniste (FNI). The peacekeepers were on patrol in Kafe village when they were ambushed and killed.

Collot d'Escuries said the militias murdered the UN soldiers "execution style" after they were only wounded during the ambush.

During Tuesday's operation, some 30 AK-47 Kalashnikovs were confiscated after the militants fled their camp in Loga. It was fortified and the militias used heavy weapons, Collot d'Escuries said.

"We did not open fire first, but we had to retaliate when the 242 blue helmets of the Pakistani MONUC contingent, which is stationed in [the eastern province of] South Kivu, was moved there and received fire from small and heavy arms, like anti-tank mortars," he said.

"Our return fire was reasonable and limited," he added.

However, he qualified the operation as the largest in terms of victims.

The MONUC division in the east will continue to intensify its campaign in the area, he said.

"The armed groups will be disarmed, the illegal tax collection points and the militia camps will be dismantled, the criminal gangs, who present themselves as armed groups, have only one alternative - disarm and integrate into the demobilisation and reinsertion centres where 500 demobilised combatants are already registered," Collot d'Escuries said.

MONUC will work in concert with the first integrated brigade of the Congolese army, which is also deployed in the area, he said.

According to MONUC, another two militia camps were dismantled on Wednesday.


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