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Last Updated: Monday, 28 July, 2003, 19:36 GMT 20:36 UK
UN strengthens DR Congo force
UN troops
The troops now have a mandate to protect civilians and aid workers
The United Nations Security Council has voted unanimously to keep its peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo for another year.

It has also agreed to increase the number of troops, observers and political officers by 2,100, taking the total number to 10,800.

The Security Council also gave peacekeepers a stronger mandate.

They had been allowed to defend themselves and UN facilities but now they will also be able to protect civilians and humanitarian workers who are under imminent threat of physical violence.

A French-led force has been trying to quell massacres in the Ituri region but it is due to leave in September.

Failure

The humanitarian agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on Friday accused the UN peacekeepers of failing to protect the civilian population in the Ituri region.

In a report entitled "Ituri: Broken Promises? A Pretence of Protection and Inadequate Assistance", MSF warned that despite the deployment of the peacekeeping troops in Bunia, "war is always close by".

MSF also protested against continued insecurity in and around the town of Bunia, a town in Ituri, saying that the current levels of protection and assistance to the people were far from enough.

The report criticised the French-led European forces in the area which "arrived too late for tens of thousands of people".

The humanitarian agency said that despite the peace process in Congo, which led to the inauguration of a new power-sharing government on 17 July, killings were continuing in other parts of the country's north-eastern region.

Fear

In April, some 600 reserve troops from the UN Mission in the DRC (Monuc) were deployed to the Ituri region, where more than 50,000 people have been killed and some 500,000 displaced since 1999.

Dr Congo refugees
Thousands are too scared to return to their homes in Bunia
Following vicious inter-ethnic clashes in the region that left hundreds dead in May, a UN-mandated European Union force was deployed last month to reinforce the overwhelmed Monuc contingent and secure Bunia.

In the past weeks, more than 12,000 people have gone back to Bunia after fleeing terror in the town in mid-May, but few are willing to return to their homes because they fear for their lives.

It says the situation is even more dire outside the town, where there is no protection for the nearly 150,000 people who fled Bunia to seek refuge in the surrounding forests.




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