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Thursday, November 11, 1999 Published at 18:59 GMT

World: Africa

UN team starts work in Congo

Rebel-held areas will be the UN forces' first destination

By Stephanie Wouters in Kinshasa

The United Nations has begun its deployment of military liaison officers throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo - a significant step forward in the implementation of the Lusaka peace accord signed in August.

Battle for the heart of Africa
After three weeks of waiting in the capital, an 11-member team of UN technical experts in humanitarian, logistical and military affairs left Kinshasa's Ndjili international airport on Thursday morning for the rebel-held city of Gbadolite, from where they will travel to several other cities in rebel-held areas on a one-week tour.

Their departure came after the government granted what UN officials described as sufficient security guarantees.

The team has not yet received permission from the government to deploy its personnel in government-held areas. The deployment of the technical team is a prerequisite step in the evaluation of any UN peacekeeping mission, and its mandate does not include judging the military situation, or verifying claims of ceasefire violations.

The delay in the team's deployment was caused largely by the Congolese Government's refusal to grant the UN full security guarantees which include not only the physical safety of UN personnel, but also the right to freedom of movement and to work in confidentiality.

Security guarantees

Colonel James Ellery, the head of the UN observer mission in Congo, told the BBC that the government had now granted sufficient security guarantees in order for the UN to deploy its personnel.

The government's decision, UN officials say, is a direct result of several meetings between President Laurent Kabila and Moustaffa Niasse, the UN special envoy to the Congo, who left Kinshasa on Wednesday after a three-day visit.

Members of the UN mission in Kinshasa told the BBC that the deployment of the technical team is a significant step forward, but that much work still lies ahead, notably in getting the government's permission to deploy the technical team in government-held areas.

The UN Security Council has put off the planned deployment of up to 500 military observers until the technical team has made its full assessment.

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