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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 June, 2003, 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK
French boost DR Congo presence
Cheering crowds in Bunia
Residents were relieved to see the first French troops arrive on Friday
A group of 120 French special forces has started to arrive in the north-eastern town of Bunia in the Democratic Republic of Congo which has been ravaged by ethnic fighting.

An advance guard of French troops, as part of a special United Nations-mandated intervention mission, has already deployed on the streets of Bunia, which has been relatively calm after a fierce gun battle between the rival militias at the weekend.

The deployment comes as UN Security Council diplomats arrive in Angola at the start of a tour of the region, seeking to solve the DR Congo crisis.

Despite a peace deal ending the war in DR Congo and an agreement on a new transitional government involving former rebels, efforts to settle the conflict in Ituri province have failed.

The conflict between between ethnic Hema and Lendu fighters has left hundreds of people dead in recent weeks.

According to Thomas Lubanga, leader of the Hema group that controls the town, 38 Lendu fighters, three Hema fighters and three civilians had died in the fighting at the weekend.

Some 700 French soldiers have arrived in Uganda in the past couple of days and over the next few days and weeks are being flown into the town.

Jets

French soldiers provide the nucleus of the 1,400-strong force. Diplomats say the UK, Belgium, Sweden and Ireland will also contribute soldiers - alongside a number of African nations such as South Africa and Senegal.

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

Fears are being expressed that even if the foreign troops secure Bunia - it could drive ethnic warfare into the countryside and the multinational force has no mandate to protect civilians there.

UN investigators are heading off to to investigate the killing of two of their observers who were brutally killed at a checkpoint north of Bunia last month.

The pair were captured, had their hands tied behind their backs and tortured before they were shot, according to UN officials.

According to Ugandan reports, tens of thousands of people have been fleeing attacks from militia around Bunia.

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




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