UN military observer shot dead in Ituri

A Kenyan UN military observer was shot dead on Thursday in the troubled eastern district of Ituri in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a spokesman for the UN Mission there, Leacadio Salmeron, said.

"No one else was hurt," he said.

The soldier, whose rank and name were not disclosed, was killed in daylight when his convoy was ambushed near Katoto, 22 km northeast of Bunia, the main town in Ituri. He was one of 37 Kenyan military observers with the UN mission.

Salmeron said the assailants were thought to be from a segment of the Hema militia, the Union of Congolese Patriots (Union des patriots congolais) of Bosco Lubanga, in alliance with the Lendu militia, the Front des nationalists integrationistes.

The observers were a mix of soldiers and civilians returning to their Bunia headquarters, after investigating reports that armed members of Lubanga's militia had been robbing civilians in Katoto.

The death of the observer brings to three the number of UN observers killed in the country as a result of hostile action since their deployment in November 1999. Militia killed a Malawian and a Jordanian in 2003.

Ethnic militia have subjected UN troops to repeated attacks since the end of November 2003. Some 4,500 UN troops have been deployed in Ituri since September 2003 to protect the district's population.