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UN peacekeepers in eastern DR of Congo return fire, kill 50 militiamen, destroy camps

2 March 2005 United Nations peacekeepers in the volatile eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) came under attack yesterday while carrying out a search and cordon operation, returned fire and killed at least 50 militia fighters, a UN spokesman said today.

About 240 peacekeepers from Pakistan, Nepal and South Africa in the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) were travelling near the village of Loga in Ituri district when they were fired upon. Air support was being provided by India, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said at the daily press briefing in New York.

He said at least 50 militia members were killed and two UN peacekeepers were wounded in the ensuing firefight. The two MONUC soldiers were sent to South Africa for care.

MONUC had a right to protect itself when shot at, he added, noting that the operation was part of the Mission's more robust approach to normalize the situation and to protect the civilian population.

According to MONUC's Radio Okapi, a mission spokesman, Lt. Col. Dominique Demange, said about 30 light weapons were seized by the UN "blue helmets."

Two militia camps, one of which was believed to be the battalion headquarters of the Nationalist Integrationist Front (FNI), were destroyed in the operation designed to protect the civilian population from militias "who had been terrorizing the civilian population," Mr. Dujarric said.

MONUC has said various militias have been looting and extorting the local population.

FNI is a militia dominated by the Lendu ethnic group, which has been battling against members of the Hema ethnic group seizing their land.

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