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Gunmen Attack Two U.N. Bases in Congo

November 6, 2003

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) _ Gunmen attacked two U.N. peacekeeping bases in eastern Congo, wounding one peacekeeper, a U.N. spokesman said Thursday.

Peacekeepers returned fire during the three-hour attack on their headquarters late Wednesday in the eastern town of Bunia, U.N. spokesman Leocadio Salmeron told The Associated Press by telephone.

A U.N. peacekeeper, a Bangladeshi soldier, was shot in the leg. His injuries were not life-threatening, Salmeron said. He said a nearby camp for Uruguayan peacekeepers had also come under fire.

``We can’t yet say who attacked,″ Salmeron said. ``And we don’t yet know how many victims there were on the side of the assailants.″

Piet Kanyinda, a hotel manager in Bunia, blamed the Union of Congolese Patriots, an ethnic Hema tribal militia, for the attack and said sporadic gunfire continued overnight and into Thursday.

Other residents contacted by telephone also said UPC militiamen had carried out the attack, but UPC security chief Saba Rafiki said his forces were not involved.

``There were gunshots all over town until 4 a.m.,″ said Kanyinda, who runs the Hotel Lusakivana, located in the same district as the U.N. headquarters. ``U.N. armored cars were patrolling throughout the night.″

Kanyinda said the UPC militiamen were angered because U.N. authorities had refused them permission to hold a meeting in Bunia earlier this week. Salmeron said such meetings were banned for security reasons.

Rafiki told The Associated Press from Bunia that Uruguayan troops had dispersed a UPC gathering on Wednesday.

Tribal factions in volatile northeastern Ituri province _ mainly minority ethnic Hemas and majority Lendus _ have continued to battle each other despite the presence of around 4,500 U.N. peacekeepers and military observers in the region.

On Sept. 1, the U.N. force replaced a French-led emergency force that had largely stabilized Bunia since arriving in June to stem fighting between the two groups.

The U.N. peacekeepers include troops from Bangladesh, Uruguay, Pakistan, Nepal, Indonesia and India, among other countries.

The United Nations began to deploy troops in Congo in November 1999 to monitor cease-fire agreements aimed at ending the civil war in Africa’s third-largest country.

Ituri has been beset by fighting between the Hema and Lendu _ and by massacres and reprisal killings _ since 1999, a year after the outbreak of Congo’s recently ended five-year war.

The Hema and Lendu have traditionally clashed over land and resources in province. The area is rich with timber, gold and the mineral coltan, used to make some cell phone parts.

Update hourly