- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2003

KIGALI, Rwanda — Troops from the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) left yesterday for the village from which attackers set off early this week to massacre 65 persons, a force spokeswoman said.

“A combat section left very early this morning,” Isabelle Abric told Agence France-Presse from Bunia, the capital of Congo’s troubled northeastern Ituri region. The MONUC unit numbered 35 men, Miss Abric said, and they were headed for “a village from where the attackers probably left on Monday morning.”

She did not name the village.

Latest figures from MONUC say at least 65 persons, thought to be from the minority Hema tribe, were killed and a score were wounded in Kachele, some 60 miles northeast of Bunia. The killers are thought to be from the larger Lendu tribe, whose long-running feud with the Hema has claimed 50,000 lives since 1999 and displaced a half-million people.

Two other MONUC combat sections spent Tuesday night in Kachele.

This week’s massacre of civilians reveals the enormity of the task facing U.N. peacekeepers as they prepare to deploy across the Ituri region. The dead were mostly children, pregnant women and the elderly.

The last reported massacre in Ituri took place in late July, when dozens of people were killed in two villages, Drodro and Largo, about 50 miles north of Bunia. At least 150 persons were killed in massacres in the same two villages on April 3.

An escalation of the killings led to the deployment of a French-led European Union security force in Bunia in June. On Sept. 1, that force was replaced by troops attached to MONUC.

Whereas the French restricted themselves to Bunia and its immediate surroundings, the 3,000 Pakistani and Bangladeshi soldiers in the U.N. contingent are to deploy across Ituri, a region about twice the size of Belgium.

“For now, the [U.N.] blue helmets haven’t really shown if they are up to this mission,” said one observer of Africa’s Great Lakes region, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“The Kachele massacre is a test for them. They have a chance to prove their ability to react and intervene,” he added.

Troops of MONUC’s Ituri Brigade, as the new U.N. force is called, have carried out several reconnaissance missions outside Bunia. One took them to Fataki, a village 75 miles northeast of Bunia, where massacres and large-scale looting took place in July.

Several thousand civilians, mostly from the Hema minority, who fled Lendu attacks on Fataki had sought refuge in Bule, about 12 miles to the south, several sources said. Kachele is three miles from Bule.

“We have to establish responsibility, see where the attack came from,” said Col. Laurent Banal, commander of the Ituri Brigade.

“As soon was we have sufficient reliable information, there will be an appropriate military response in line with our new mandate, which allows us to open fire to protect civilians,” he said.

“Deployment will move into an active phase imminently, with the installation of three permanent posts outside of Bunia,” he added.

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