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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006, 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK
Rebels hold DR Congo peacekeepers
UN troops in DR Congo
The UN is helping the army flush out rebels in the east
The UN has confirmed that seven of its peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo are being held captive by rebels in the east of the country.

The men, who are all from Nepal, were taken hostage after clashes with the FNI militia. One Nepalese peacekeeper was killed in the fighting.

A UN spokesman told the BBC indirect contacts has been made with the group and the men were alive and well.

The peacekeepers had been trying to disarm militias when they were seized.

Ransom reports

The spokesman for the UN mission in DR Congo (Monuc), Kamal Saiki, said the FNI (Nationalist and Integrationist Front) leader, Peter Karim, would be held personally responsible for the safety of the peacekeepers.

They were captured in an area 62 miles (100km) west of the town of Bunia in the volatile north-eastern Ituri district.

There are unconfirmed reports that the militia group has asked for a ransom against the release of the seven peacekeepers.

But Mr Saiki stressed that no talks or negotiations will be held between the UN and the FNI.

The 30 UN troops were backing up an operation by hundreds of Congolese soldiers.

Some 17,000 UN troops - the world's largest peacekeeping force - are in DR Congo ahead of elections due on 30 July.

Tension high

The FNI is one of several militias operating in the gold-rich Ituri province.

The BBC's Arnaud Zajtman in Kinshasa says some 14,000 fighters have laid down their arms in Ituri district but the UN says about 2,000 remain active and armed.

Three other UN troops have been hospitalised in the main Ituri town, Bunia, and were not in danger, said Monuc spokesman Kamal Saiki.

The death is the first peacekeeping fatality in DR Congo since January, when eight Guatemalan troops were killed. Seventy-four have been killed since the UN mission was set up in 1999.

The elections are intended to end a period of transition since a five-year war officially ended in 2003.

Although tension is rising ahead of the polls, most of the country is relatively calm, except for the east and the south-eastern Katanga province.


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