Congo Watch: Congo militia threaten to execute UN peacekeepers

Monday, June 26, 2006

Congo militia threaten to execute UN peacekeepers

June 26, 2006 Reuters report from Kinshasa by David Lewis:

Congolese militia linked to gunmen holding seven Nepalese U.N. peacekeepers hostage on Monday threatened to order their execution after clashes last week.

But some U.N. sources questioned whether the group of gunmen holding the peacekeepers would take orders from the militia issuing the threat.

The men were taken hostage last month during clashes between the U.N. and gunmen, highlighting the insecurity in eastern Congo one month before historic elections are due to be held.

Militiamen loyal to Ituri warlord Peter Karim have issued a range of demands, including ransoms and the release of fellow militia fighters being held by the government, but the U.N. has called for the unconditional release of their men.

The Revolutionary Movement of Congo (MRC), a loose coalition of gunmen in the lawless northeastern district, issued the execution threat on Monday following clashes between government forces and militiamen late last week.

"If there is another such attack, the ... MRC will feel obliged to order the pure and simple execution of these hostages," the MRC said in a statement.

The MRC, which was set up in neighbouring Uganda last year and brought together various ethnic groups, said the clashes took place when the U.N. and government forces tried to rescue the hostages.

ETHNIC VIOLENCE

But a U.N. spokesman denied any operation to rescue the hostages had taken place and said he understood it was the militia who had attacked the Congolese government positions and no U.N. peacekeepers were involved.

"Negotiations (to free the hostages) are ongoing," Major Hans-Jakob Reichen, spokesman for U.N. forces in eastern Congo, said on Monday.

"During this period U.N. forces will not conduct actions that could endanger the success of these negotiations. (But) this time of negotiations can't be considered a time of impunity," he added.

Ituri has been a bloody corner of Congo where ethnic violence and clashes between militia groups vying for control of mines and taxation have killed 60,000 people since 1999.

Long accused of not doing enough to protect civilians and prompted by the killing of nine Bangladeshi peacekeepers, the U.N. tried to crack down on the militia groups last year, launching joint operations with government forces.

Thousands of gunmen signed up to a disarmament programme but abuses by government forces sent to Ituri and the failure to offer former fighters new opportunities has allowed militia numbers to swell again.

Both Hema and Lendu ethnic fighters joined the MRC but alliances in Ituri are fluid and some U.N. sources questioned whether Karim's men would obey orders from the MRC.

Ituri is just one of several parts of eastern Congo where violence continues despite three years of official peace and the presence of the U.N.'s largest peacekeeping mission.

The July 30th presidential and parliamentary polls are meant to draw a line under Congo's 1998-2003 war, which sucked in six neighbouring countries and has killed four million people, mostly from hunger and disease.

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