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Great Lakes
Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 June, 2003, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
EU approves DR Congo force
Rebels in Bunia
The majority of rebels who have taken over Bunia are child soldiers
The European Union (EU) has approved a plan to send a peacekeeping force to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there are continuing reports of ethnic killings in the troubled north-eastern Ituri region.

The decision was made by EU ambassadors at a meeting of the union's Political and Security Committee in Brussels.

The French-led peacekeeping force, which received United Nations Security Council approval last Friday, will comprise about 1,400 personnel and is due to start deploying at the end of this week.

Correspondents say people in Bunia - the main town in Ituri and the scene of several reported massacres - would welcome any force that could restore order, but the reaction from rival militias is uncertain.

Multi-national effort

The BBC's Ishbel Matheson in Ituri says the presence of foreign troops may deter killing in Bunia, but elsewhere in the surrounding countryside the massacres are likely to continue.

UN peacekeepers in Bunia
The UN appealed for international help in the region

The EU has undertaken just one military mission before, and its peacekeeping troops have never been deployed outside of Europe.

France, which is experienced in intervening in African trouble spots, will supply about 700 of the peacekeeping troops.

Diplomats say that the UK, Belgium, Sweden and Ireland may also participate along with a number of African nations such as South Africa and Senegal.

EU ministers will formally ratify the decision to begin the mission, codenamed Artemis after the Greek goddess of hunting, on Thursday.

Massacre accusations

Meanwhile, the EU special envoy for the Great Lakes region, Aldo Ajello, has begun a regional tour, which will focus on the Ituri area, where more than 400 people have been killed in tribal fighting in the past month.

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

The Congolese Government has denied that its troops were involved in killings in Ituri over the weekend in which fighters from the majority Lendu community were reported to have slaughtered at least 100 people in a village populated by Hema people.

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

He said the attackers had included government troops from the capital Kinshasa.

The violence is showing no sign of abating and in Bunia local radio stations have begun broadcasting hate messages that threaten civilians.

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

Civilians have been arriving in the Congolese town of Beni, 150 kilometres (93 miles) to the south, and their numbers have raised fears of a food crisis there.

The BBC's Mike Sergeant
"The war has already killed about three million people"


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