Multinational force shoots dead two militiamen in Bunia

Soldiers in the multinational force deployed in Bunia, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, shot dead two militiamen on Monday after coming under fire, the French news agency AFP reported.

The shooting of the militiamen, who were reported to have been intoxicated, was the first confirmed incident of fatalities resulting from an exchange of fire between the French-led multinational troops and militiamen, AFP reported.

The multinational force, requested by the UN Security Council, began deploying in Bunia a week ago. AFP reported that so far 500 out of 1,500 troops expected were already in Bunia. The force is mandated to secure the town and protect UN staff, humanitarian workers and civilians.

"Warned earlier this afternoon of aggressive acts to the southwest of Bunia, a patrol of the multinational force went to the area. It was attacked by two militiamen," the AFP quoted the force's spokesperson, Maj Xavier Pons, as saying in Bunia.

"The patrol immediately responded with fire, killing both militiamen," Pons said.

He added that no one from the force was hurt. The news agency reported that Pons warned that the peacekeepers "would respond firmly to all people threatening the life of the population and soldiers of the multinational force".

He said the incident took place in a part of town populated by the Hema minority, the ethnic group that dominates the Union des patriotes congolais (UPC) led by John Lubanga, the militia group which controls the town.

AFP reported that in Paris, a spokesperson for the armed forces chief-of-staff, Col Christian Baptiste, confirmed the report. He said that the militiamen were Hemas, and were reported to have been terrorising the local population.

Baptiste said that peacekeepers had arrived at the scene to find "a group of highly agitated Hema militiamen, apparently under the influence of alcohol or drugs".

AFP reported Lubanga had said that he knew nothing of the incident and had no news of losses from his group.

On Saturday, there was an exchange of fire between the force and militiamen, reportedly from the Lendu, rivals of the Hema, a few kilometres southeast of Bunia during a force patrol.

The multinational force reported no casualties on its side, AFP reported.

"On Saturday, troops from the multinational force responded to a provocation by Lendu militiamen. Today, they riposted following an attack by Hema militiamen," AFP quoted Baptise as saying.