KINSHASA (Reuters) - Three Indian U.N. peacekeepers were killed in an attack on their base in Congo by 50 fighters armed with machetes and spears, the U.N. mission MONUSCO said on Wednesday.
About a dozen U.N. peacekeepers battled about 50 unidentified attackers early on Wednesday at the base in Kirumba, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province, where several armed groups are engaged in combat.
Six or seven other peacekeepers were wounded in the attack, General Philippe Beni, MONUSCO chief of staff, told reporters.
“About 50 aggressors came out from the vegetation, they came discreetly at night and then hand-to-hand combat started between 10, 12 or so of our soldiers,” he said.
The attack brings the number of peacekeepers killed in action to 34 since the mission began 10 years ago.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the assault and asked the government to investigate the attack.
The U.N. has withdrawn 1,700 peacekeepers in recent months in response to calls from Congo’s government to end the mission next year but still supports operations against several armed groups in the east.
General Vainqueur Mayala, North Kivu commander for the Congo army, said he suspected remnants of the Mai Mai Pareco militia egrated into the military may be responsible, as opposed to fighters from the more prominent FDLR or ADF rebel groups.
Roger Meece, the new head of the U.N. mission, said the groups were still a huge threat to the population and the United Nations would keep trying to wipe them out.
Meece said that supporting a series of elections scheduled to start with a presidential vote on November 27 next year would be a priority for the mission, whose year-long mandate runs out next June.
“It’s a priority for us to play our role in the elections and ensure free and transparent elections as in 2006,” said Meece, formerly U.S. ambassador to Congo.
After 2006 elections, President Joseph Kabila’s troops fought opposition candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba’s forces in the streets of the capital in 2007.
Bemba is now awaiting the start of a war crimes trial at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, on charges relating to his role in fighting in Central African Republic, which neighbours Congo to the north.
Editing by Daniel Magnowski