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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 June, 2003, 13:35 GMT 14:35 UK
UK troops head for DR Congo
UN peacekeepers in Bunia
The UK detachment will bolster UN peacekeeping efforts
Britain is sending a detachment of engineers and a Hercules plane to help the United Nations peacekeeping effort in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.

The soldiers will join the French-led multinational force, armed forces minister Adam Ingram announced to the House of Commons on Thursday.

Mr Ingram described the British involvement in the first EU-led operation outside Europe as "a modest, realistic and sustainable deployment".

It will be short-term and troops are only likely to stay for up to three months.

The multinational force is an interim measure
Adam Ingram
Armed forces minister

Exact numbers of personnel are not known, but among them will be five staff officers for the force's HQ and a liaison officer to work with the UN.

In May, the head of United Nations peacekeeping operations Jean-Marie Guehenno warned there could be a bloodbath in the north-eastern town of Bunia unless decisive action was taken.

Some 700 French soldiers arrived in Uganda earlier this week and over the next few days and weeks are being flown into Bunia.

In his statement, Mr Ingram said tens of thousands of people had fled their homes due to fighting and there was a risk that renewed violence could lead to many deaths.

He said there could not be a "military solution" to the region's problems.

"The multinational force is an interim measure, deployed to help the UN," he said.

"It has a limited short term mandate and will begin to withdraw when UN reinforcements arrive later in the summer."

Babies killed

Ethnic Hemas and Lendus have a long-standing land dispute and conflict between the two in recent weeks has left hundreds of people dead.

Some 50,000 people have been killed in the region in recent years and babies and priests are among those who have been brutally killed.

Several mass graves have been discovered in the Ituri district around Bunia, where the lucrative Kilo Moto gold mines are situated.

In response to the Commons announcement, shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin said the government should have pressed for Nato to lead the operation in the Congo.

He said it was an inappropriate setting to have "an experiment with new and untried EU military structures".


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