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UN peacekeepers back Congolese soldiers in drive to disarm irregulars

26 May 2006 In the run-up to the elections scheduled for 30 July in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), United Nations peacekeepers have been backing the national armed forces as they have fought to expel irregular armed groups from Ituri district and the two Kivu provinces over the past week, the UN mission there said.

The two allied rebel groups which are the targets of the joint UN Organization Mission in DRC (MONUC) and national armed forces (FARDC) operation are the Front de Resistance Patriotique en Ituri (FRPI), and the Mouvement revolutionnaire congolais (MRC). The latter regroups combatants from many armed militias that had disbanded, MONUC and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

Thousands of people have fled the affected towns and villages in Ituri to avoid the conflict and humanitarian groups could not reach them because of the fighting, OCHA’s Modibo Traoré said in the district capital, Bunia.

Until recently, both militias controlled the area due to the absence of government authority there, OCHA and MONUC said.

Last Friday 1,000 blue helmets from MONUC assisted 3,000 FARDC armed forces in conducting a cordon-and-search operation in Ambe, after receiving a tip that that an armed group had been seen there.

MONUC and the FARDC also carried out a two-day weekend operation in and around the small Ituri town of Tchei. FARDC sustained 22 casualties, including five deaths, while 41 militiamen were killed and many more were wounded. Twenty-five militia members were arrested and 16 AK-47s and other weapons were seized, the mission said.

The rebels tried to retake Tchei, their former headquarters in the mineral-rich district, on Tuesday, according to MONUC.

Joint MONUC-FARDC patrols have been operating night and day from Eringeti base to prevent the militias fleeing Ituri from finding refuge in the Kivus.

A mobile operating base in Tongo, South Kivu, was established on Monday to function until today and enable the joint force to talk to the local population about the electoral process. On Monday, the MONUC Brigade of South Kivu patrolled Kavumu airport and the surrounding villages.

From another South Kivu mobile operating base at Lemera, soldiers patrolled the area, notably the Kitoday market, and provided an armed escort for a FARDC demobilization and disarmament team.

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