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Last Updated: Friday, 13 June, 2003, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
DR Congo 'war criminals' warned
Aldo Aiello, EU special representative in eastern Congo (l)
EU troops will protect a number of facilities in Ituri
Those who have committed war crimes in the bitter fighting in north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo will not be granted immunity, a United Nations team has warned.

UN Security Council ambassadors were speaking during a visit to the war-torn town of Bunia, scene of bitter clashes between ethnic Hema and Lendu militias in the past two months, which has left hundreds dead.

Warnings of genocide have prompted the European Union and the United Nations to seek to intervene in the gold-rich region, where fighting flared after Ugandan troops pulled out in May.

The European Union is sending a 1,500-strong, French dominated, peacekeeping force to Bunia.

Meanwhile, representatives of the rebels and the government have met in a bid to stop recent fighting in the North-Kivu province, reports the French news agency, AFP.

Visit

A peace deal has been signed to end the five-year war in DR Congo and a transitional power-sharing government was supposed to have been sworn in earlier this month.

UNREST IN ITURI REGION

However the ceremony has been delayed amidst squabbles about who would control the army.

"The message from members of the Security Council is that there is no impunity for crimes as atrocious as the ones we see in eastern DR Congo," said France's ambassador to the UN, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, in Bunia.

The Security Council delegation was in Bunia on Thursday to assess humanitarian needs after fierce inter-ethnic clashes, which threaten the country's peace process.

UN mandate

About 250 soldiers, mainly French and four British military officers, arrived in Bunia on Thursday with more expected to be flown in from Entebbe international airport in neighbouring Uganda over the coming days.

French UN troops
French troops were sent to Bunia to end weeks of fighting
EU representative Aldo Ajello said that the EU force will be deployed in Bunia under the Security Council mandate until a more robust UN mission in the DR Congo, Monuc, can take over in September.

Britain has said it will commit a team of military engineers and a transport aircraft.

According to Mr Ajello, the EU force - the first such mission outside of Europe - will protect civilians and UN personnel and secure the airport in the town, where fighting has claimed hundreds of lives in recent weeks

However, they have no mandate to prevent killings in the wider region and Mr Ajello is aware of the dangers.

"We fear that militias will try to test the peacekeeping force," he said earlier this week in Kinshasa.

Humanitarian needs

Bunia is still controlled by Hema fighters that are refusing to disarm.

Aid workers say 14 people have disappeared in Bunia since Sunday with people still terrified.

Many residents remain in UN shelters, too scared to return home.

Some 50,000 are estimated to have died in the conflict between Hemas and Lendus in the past four years.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Michael Voss
"The first contingent of the protection force is now in place"



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