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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 June, 2003, 09:14 GMT 10:14 UK
UN team starts DR Congo mission
By Mark Doyle
BBC World Affairs correspondent in Luanda

Congolese man waits to be evacuated from Bunia airport, DR Congo, 9 June 2003
Three million people have been killed in the last decade

A delegation from the United Nations Security Council has begun a nine-day tour of Africa, to try to end the fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The UN party, led by French ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere , is beginning its mission in the Angolan capital, Luanda, where it is due to meet President Jose Eduardo dos Santos later on Tuesday.

Angola was one of several countries that until recently had troops in DR Congo, supporting the government against the rebels.

The immediate focus of the UN mission is eastern DR Congo, where hundreds of people have been killed in political and tribal massacres in recent weeks.

UN peacekeeping troops, who have been in Congo for three years, have not been able to stop the killing so a new force, led by France, is stepping into the eastern town of Bunia to back up the UN.

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

No one wants a repeat of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda which the UN has on its conscience.

The French initiative is similar to the British army intervention a few years ago in Sierra Leone, where again a UN force was under-resourced and needed help.

But that is where the comparison ends because, unlike Sierra Leone, Congo is a vast territory stretching west to east across the African continent and the French military mission will be strictly limited to securing the town of Bunia and its airport.

The Security Council ambassadors will have their work cut out as they tour the region trying to solve the wider conflict.

One of the ambassadors told me: "We're in Congo doing nothing less than trying to build a state from scratch."

The vast territory of Congo was first colonised by Europeans for naked commercial gain and there has rarely been a real sense of nationhood there.

Africans took the cue and have exploited the country in the same way. As the latest war has raged, the humanitarian consequences have been disastrous.

The war in DR Congo - a country the size of western Europe - is estimated to have led to the deaths of three million people in the past decade.

It has been dubbed Africa's "first world war" because of the huge casualties and large number of neighbouring countries which have been dragged in.


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