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Gunmen kill U.N. peacekeeper in Congo
Updated: 2004-05-30 10:07

Gunmen ambushed U.N. military observers in eastern Congo on Saturday, killing one peacekeeper and slightly wounding another, a U.N. spokesman said.

Two other observers escaped unharmed, including one who was earlier reported missing, U.N. spokesman Sebastien Lapierre told The Associated Press.

The U.N. Mission in Congo, or MONUC, condemned the attack and said its observers were unarmed.

MONUC, in cooperation with the government, "will take all necessary measures to ensure that the guilty are identified, arrested and punished according to the law," the statement said.

The U.N. observers were leaving the small town of Kalehe, some 30 miles north of the eastern city of Bukavu, when armed men in uniform opened fire on their vehicle around dawn, Lapierre said.

Two days of fighting in Bukavu between rival Congolese army factions had left at least 12 fighters and civilians dead and 25 wounded.

Lapierre initially said Saturday's attack took place as the observers were sleeping at a camp in Kalehe, and one military observer had gone missing.

South African peacekeepers sent to the scene afterward found the missing observer, who fled the ambushed vehicle during the attack and was hiding nearby, Lapierre said.

The three survivors were evacuated by a U.N helicopter.

Lapierre declined to give the nationality of the slain observer, who was among four officers from Romania, Burkina Faso, Zambia and Ghana deployed in Kalehe to monitor compliance with peace accords that ended a five-year war in this vast central African nation.

The victim died of gunshot wounds to the head, Lapierre said.

The clashes in Bukavu were between government soldiers and troops loyal to a renegade commander from the former Rwandan-backed rebel group, the Congolese Rally for Democracy.

The fighting has forced "several hundred" aid workers and civilians to take refuge at U.N. compounds in Bukavu, Lapierre said.

At least 2,000 civilians fled to neighboring Rwanda, and it is unclear how many others have fled outside Bukavu, but "there are many neighborhoods which are empty," Lapierre said.

Saturday's killing brings to 38 the number of U.N. staff who've died in Congo, most from vehicle accidents and illness, since the U.N. peacekeeping mission began in November 1999, said Abou Thiam, another U.N. spokesman in Kinshasa.

Congo was split into rival fiefdoms during 1998-2002 fighting that drew in the armies of half a dozen African nations and claimed an estimated 3 million lives, mainly through war-induced hunger and disease.

A 2002 peace deal brokered in South Africa paved the way for a transitional government which took office in July 2003, bringing former rebel leaders to the capital to take up top posts.

About 10,800 U.N. troops are deployed in Congo, monitoring the peace deal and helping the government regain control of the country. Elections are scheduled for June 2005.

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