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UN says 65 massacred in Congo, 40 of them children
( 2003-10-08 09:25) (Agencies)

The known death toll from a new massacre in northeastern Congo has risen to 65 people, including 40 children, United Nations officials said on Tuesday. A U.N. spokesman said the dead were all victims of an attack on Monday in the remote village of Katshelli, which U.N. troops visited on Tuesday.

He said other hamlets had also been attacked and more people could have been killed. "Sixty-five people were counted dead by U.N. personnel. We can confirm that 40 of them were children," Hamadoun Toure told Reuters in the capital Kinshasa.

"Information is coming in bit by bit about the massacres but we can confirm that Katshelli was only one of four or five hamlets in close proximity hit by the attack," he said.

He said 20 wounded were being treated in the nearby town of Bule. The dead included women and had been either shot or hacked to death by machetes, U.N. officials said.

Katshelli and the surrounding area are predominantly inhabited by the Hema tribe, which has been embroiled in a bloody feud with the rival Lendu ethnic group for control of the mineral-rich Ituri region over the past four years.

The latest violence is certain to reignite tensions between the two tribes despite apparent recent progress in U.N. efforts to broker peace in the troubled province after a series of similar atrocities.

On Monday, the head of the main Rwandan-backed ethnic Hema militia, Thomas Lubanga, told Reuters those killed in Katshelli were Hema and the killers Lendu.

A senior official from leading Lendu political group FNI said he did not know who was to blame.

"We condemn these killings, but we have no idea who is responsible, we are not aware of undisciplined elements within the FNI taking action into their own hands," FNI president Floribert Djabu Ngabu said.


U.N. peacekeepers recently took over from a French-led force in Bunia, the main town in remote, densely-forested Ituri province, to stop the bloodshed between Hema and Lendu there.

On Tuesday, the force briefly dispatched helicopters and troops to Katshelli, some 60 km (40 miles) from Bunia to investigate the killings after its forces found 23 bodies there on Monday. Local villagers said then the bodies of other victims had already been buried after the attack.

Fighting between Hema and Lendu armed militias has killed more than 50,000 people since 1999 and displaced tens of thousands more.

The violence has complicated efforts to end Congo's wider war, in which more than three million people have died over the past five years, mostly through disease and starvation.

The government and foreign-backed rebel groups signed a peace deal in April and a power-sharing transition government was set up to shepherd Africa's third biggest country to elections in 2005.

The U.N. force, which under its mandate is allowed to open fire to stop attacks on civilians, is eventually expected to number 5,000 troops -- mainly from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Uruguay -- and deploy throughout the region.

But deployment outside Bunia has been delayed largely because of insecurity in the town, where peacekeepers have been conducting operations to clear it of illegal weapons.

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