More "Blue Helmets" Sent to D.R. of Congo, As Church Requested

Archbishop of Kisangani Called for Additional Forces to Avoid Genocide in Bunia

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NEW YORK, JULY 31, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The United Nations' presence in the Congo (MONUC) will be reinforced and its present mandate extended, following Tuesday's resolution to increase its soldiers and observers in the country from 8,700 to 10,800.

Until now, MONUC's "blue helmets" could only defend themselves and their structures. However, the security council resolved that, henceforth, they will "protect civilians and dependents of humanitarian organizations who are in imminent danger of physical violence."

On Wednesday, the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano applauded the extension of the presence of U.N. troops in the D.R. of Congo until July 30, 2004.

On July 17, Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kisangani, vice-president of Pax Christi International, and Etienne De Jonghe, secretary general of the organization, sent letters to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, requesting an enlarged intervention of United Nations and European Union operations in Ituri, in the northwest of the country.

Chris Patten, European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, and Javier Solana, top representative of the European Union's Foreign Policy and Security were also sent letters to this effect (see ZENIT, July 21, 2003).

In fact, the plan was for MONUC's mandate to end today. The representatives of "Pax Christi International" warned that "the need for a strong presence of the U.N. to prevent a genocide is evident in Bunia."

Following the U.N. resolution, the "blue helmets" should also relieve Bunia, principal town of Ituri, whose civilian population suffered many attacks the past few months. The European Union with the approval of the United Nations, deployed approximately 1,500 men of the ARTEMIS mission to protect the civilian population in that area.

Since 1998 the war has cost almost 3 million lives in former Zaire, where the regional powers of the Great Lakes are disputing control of the territory's immense natural resources. Last spring, Bunia was the scene of heavy fighting between the Hema and Lendu militias, notoriously backed, economically and militarily, by Uganda and Rwanda.

The grave situation in the Ituri district impelled the security council to appeal to the European Union to send a multi-national force headed by the French. This force will remain in Bunia until September, when the "blue helmets" will replace the European soldiers.