French authorities made the same claim following a clash with RCD forces three days earlier. Reuters correspondent Dina Mahtani, however, reported that French soldiers were aggressively deployed against the RCD combatants, made no effort to avert the confrontation, and collaborated with armed forces of the RCDs rival, the Hema-dominated Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC).
Mahtani reports that a French force of 15 armored vehicles and 70 troops came across a UPC militia unit retreating from a battle with RCD forces. The UPC members signaled to the French troops the location of the RCD group. The French troops immediately headed toward the fighting, Mahtani said. The RCD units attempted to repel the French forces with machine-gun fire and mortars. French troops responded with machine-gun fire and grenades, then units retreated when two French Mirage war-planes flew overhead, Mahtani reported.
The fact that French forces initiated the firefight was confirmed by UPC security chief Saba Rafiki. We were advancing on our traditional enemy and the French troops came from behind us and told us to stop and that they would go ahead of us, Rafiki told the Associated Press. The Lendu attempted to fight the French but fled after a short while when the French began using heavy weapons.
French army official Col. Gerard Dubois said the French did not take any casualties. The number killed or wounded among the Congolese was not known, according to a CNN report.
The UN Security Council authorized the deployment of the French-led peacekeeping force to Bunia May 30, endorsing French imperialisms second-largest military intervention in Africa this year. Paris currently has some 9,000 troops deployed throughout the continent. Nearly half of these forces are stationed in the former French colony of Ivory Coast to shore up the regime of Laurent Gbagbo, in an effort to protect French investments in that country.
Since the recent confrontation, French authorities have made it clear they will fire upon anyone who as much as pointed a gun in their direction, said UN spokesman Mounoubayi Madnoje. On June 22 French commanders gave RCD and UPC forces 72 hours to withdraw from Bunia or face disarmament.
What are the French doing over there? said Nicole, a young woman fighter with the UPC, according to a June 25 Reuters dispatch. When the French see us they point their weapons at us, she explained while handling an AK-47 rifle, and as a pair of French all-terrain vehicles mounted with machine guns kept watch over the UPC camp.
The French forces are supposed to depart September 1 when a reinforced UN peacekeeping force is scheduled to replace them. They augment the current force of 8,700 peacekeepers already in the country. On June 26 the UN Security Council extended the mandate for the military intervention to the end of July while it considers Secretary General Kofi Annans request to increase the size of the force to almost 11,000 and station them in Congo for another year.
Those forces not yet deployed in Bunia have orders to shoot only in self defense. Paris has made new proposals that would give all UN forces deployed in Ituri, the region where Bunia is located, and in Kivu, the same orders as the French-led unitsshoot to kill.
Bunia has been at the center of the five-year-long civil war in the Congo, during which an estimated 3 million civilians have been killed. More than 80 percent of Bunias population fled in the wake of the fratricidal fighting between ethnic Hema and Lendu, fostered by the government and its opponents for control of the mineral rich region.
The RCD is the main group opposing the government of Congolese president Joseph Kabila, son of Laurent Kabila who led the military campaign that overthrew the U.S.-backed regime of Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997. The RCD had been backed by the governments of Rwanda and Uganda, which relied on it to defend their borders from attacks by armed Rwandan and Ugandan opposition groups operating in eastern Congo. In 1998 the RCD controlled much of the eastern provinces of the country. It was on the verge of taking the Congolese capital but was turned back after troops from Angola, Zimbabwe, and Namibia intervened and came to the aid of the Kabila government.
U.S. hands off Liberia!
Washington prepares intervention in Africa
Troops send to Liberia aimed at stronger U.S. foothold on continent
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