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Last Updated: Sunday, 1 June, 2003, 21:57 GMT 22:57 UK
Fresh massacre in DR Congo
Hema fighter of the rebel Union of Congolese Patriots mans a checkpoint outside Bunia
Ethnic Hemas and Lendus have a long-standing land dispute
Fresh reports have emerged about mass killings in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo where bitter ethnic conflict broke out after Ugandan troops withdrew last month.

A Ugandan military commander Brigadier Kale Kaihura has told the BBC that fighters from the majority Lendu community have slaughtered at least 100 people in a village of Kyomna populated by Hema people.

Hema leader Bawunde Kisangani told the French news agency AFP that he visited the village and counted 253 dead bodies, including about 20 babies.

He said the attackers used machetes and rifles to kill their victims. "They stormed a hospital and killed people they found there."

The attackers included fighters of another rebel group, the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Liberation Movement, as well as Kinshasa government troops, he said.

Peacekeepers agreed

"What annoys me and frustrates some of us is that all this is happening after we forewarned the United Nations through Monuc (the UN military mission in DRC) that this situation was volatile and needed careful handling," Brigadier Kaihura told AFP.

BUNIA CONFLICT
More than 400 dead in May
50,000 killed in recent years
Ethnic rivalries made worse by foreign armies

"But they thought that we were just manipulating the situation and they kept their mindset and pressurised us to leave without adequate arrangement for security of these people."

The United Nations Security Council has given the go-ahead for a French-led international force to restore order in the area.

More than 1,000 peacekeepers will be deployed to the Ituri province in order to halt the ethnic fighting that has left more than 400 dead in recent weeks.

In the regional capital, Bunia, local radio stations have begun broadcasting hate messages that threaten civilians.

Tens of thousands of refugees have been fleeing attacks from militia around Bunia, according to Ugandan reports.

Civilians have been arriving in the Congolese town of Beni, 150 km to the south, and their numbers have raised fears of a food crisis there.

Force sanctioned

A small lightly-armed UN force already in the province has been unable to stop the widespread atrocities that have caused thousands of civilians to flee.

UN peacekeepers in Bunia
The UN has been unable to end the violence
Under the UN charter, the new troops - who will be in place until September - are authorised to use force to keep control.

France has said it will provide half of the international force, with other soldiers expected to come from both western and African countries.

The UK has pledged to send troops, and the United States said it may provide logistical and financial support for the troops but ruled out contributing soldiers.

The French ambassador to the UN has already said troops could be deployed as soon as next week.




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