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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 June, 2005, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
DR Congo 'human shield' gunfight
Many Congolese militiamen voluntarily surrendered their weapons to a UN mission
Peacekeepers are disarming militias in eastern DR Congo
United Nations peacekeepers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have been involved in a sustained battle with militia fighters.

Some 200 peacekeepers were dismantling a militia camp in Ituri when they were attacked with mortars, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

A UN spokesman said the militias used women and children as human shields during the clashes that followed.

More than 50,000 have died in Ituri province in ethnic clashes since 1999.

UN patrols are being stepped up after threats by armed militias to disrupt official independence day celebrations on 30 June.

The UN Mission in the Congo (Monuc) military spokesman Thierry Provendier said that after eight hours of fighting on Monday the militiamen began retreating.

The Pakistani and Bangladeshi peacekeepers were backed up by Mi-25 helicopters.

"While we don't have an exact militia death count at the moment, the peacekeepers inflicted considerable damage," Monuc spokesman Kemal Saiki said.

More than 16,000 troops are deployed in DR Congo, predominantly in the east, as part of the UN's largest peacekeeping mission.

Since last September, they have disarmed about 15,000 militia fighters.

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