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UN troops killed 50 militiamen in self-defence, Annan says

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NAIROBI, 4 Mar 2005 (IRIN) - A recent operation in which UN peacekeepers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) killed 50 militiamen was "an attempt to defend themselves and a determination to fulfil their mandate as effectively as they can," UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Thursday.

He was responding to questions at a news conference in New York, the UN headquarters. Reporters had questioned whether or not the UN troops had been heavy-handed in the attack at the village of Loga in the embattled northeastern district of Ituri.

The Front nationaliste integrationiste (FNI) militiamen were killed on Tuesday when UN troops stormed their stronghold.

Annan said he did not think the UN troops had acted in a deliberate show of force.

At the same news conference, the deputy director of the Africa Division in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), Margaret Carey, said the "cordon-and-search" operation had been planned before the militias attacked the UN troops in Kafe village, killing nine Bangladeshi soldiers on 25 February.

The "strengthened action was in keeping with the mission's robust mandate", Carey said.

The chief of the DPKO Situation Centre, Francois Dureau, said at about 10:30 a.m. that Tuesday, the UN troops came under heavy fire as they approached Loga, a suspected FNI base.

"Taking advantage of the protection provided by 12 armed personnel carriers, the United Nations troops resorted to controlled fire and movement in order to prevent casualties - both on peacekeepers and the local population present in a nearby marketplace," he said.

At noon, Dureau said, a house-to-house search was launched, during which, the FNI headquarters' compound was dismantled and a number of weapons, ammunition and documents seized. In the process, he said, an estimated 50-60 militia members were killed.

He added that an attack helicopter, which was called in to protect the UN troops from fire coming from hills overlooking the town, caused many of the casualties.

Angry community leaders later accused the peacekeeping force of taking revenge for the killing of the nine Bangladeshi soldiers. They claimed that women and children had also been killed in the fighting.

Asked whether past experiences in Rwanda and Srebrenica, in which UN peacekeepers failed to protect civilians from mass killings, had led the UN to take a more aggressive stand, Carey said: "Srebrenica and Rwanda were very difficult lessons learned for the United Nations and of course on the basis of lessons learned, we designed new operations."

Dutch peacekeepers in Bosnia were unable to control a UN-safe area around Srebrenica as Serb forces killed 7,000 Muslim men and boys in July 1995.

In Ituri, militia warfare, mainly between the Lendu and Hema communities, has resulted in the deaths of some 50,000 people since 1999 in a conflict over economic control of a lawless area rich in diamonds, gold and other natural resources.


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