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Militiamen use kids as shields in clash with peacekeepers in Congo
Updated: 2005-06-28 15:06

Militia fighters using women and children as human shields battled with UN peacekeepers Monday in northeastern Congo, a UN spokesman said.

Clashes between militiamen and more than 200 Pakistani and Bangladeshi peacekeepers broke out Monday south of Bunia, capital of the violent Ituri province, after peacekeepers attempted to search and dismantle a militia camp, UN spokesman Kemal Saiki said.

The fighters responded by firing mortar shells, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at peacekeepers, Saiki said.

"They were also using women and children as human shields," said Saiki. No further details of the battle were immediately available.

Peacekeepers were backed by an Mi-25 helicopter gunship in a firefight that lasted most of the day, said UN spokesman Mohammed Wahab, speaking by telephone from Bunia.

"While we don't have an exact militia death count at the moment, the peacekeepers inflicted considerable damage," said Wahab.

Battles between UN peacekeepers and Ituri militia have left 12 peacekeepers dead this year, while peacekeepers have killed nearly 75 militia members.

Since last September, about 15,000 militia have voluntarily surrendered their weapons to peacekeepers and government troops. However, UN officials fear many militia have begun to rearm and organize.

Since 1999, clashes between ethnic Lendu and Hema militia have killed more than 50,000 people, aid groups say. Fighting in December forced more than 100,000 people into squalid displaced camps in the green hills, with dozens dying each day of cholera, diarrhea and measles.

The Ituri conflict was a bloody spin-off of Congo's larger five-year war that ended in 2002 after drawing in six African armies and leaving nearly four million people dead, mostly through war-induced starvation and disease.

Congo's shaky transitional government - with the help of over 17,000 UN peacekeepers - is attempting to shepherd peace throughout the vast former Belgian colony.

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