Rebel fighters kill 3 Indian peacekeepers in Congo after attack on base, army official says

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Dozens of rebels attacked a U.N. peacekeeping base under darkness in eastern Congo early Wednesday, killing three Indian soldiers and wounding seven other peacekeepers, an Indian army official said.

Indian army spokesman Virendra Singh said up to 50 rebels attacked a base in Kirumba in North Kivu province around 2 a.m., leading to an exchange of gunfire.

Nearly 4,000 Indian army soldiers are part of the U.N. Congo peacekeeping mission, which has about 20,000 people from various countries.

Jado Ikosi, a human rights activist who lives near the Kirumba peacekeeping base, told The Associated Press that gangs entered the base after killing the guard with a spear.

Ikosi said locals heard gunshots from 1:30 a.m. to 2 a.m., but the attackers had fled the scene by the time people awoke in the morning. The attackers left behind shoes that fell off when they were fleeing and signs of blood on the fences surrounding the base, he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.N. Security Council condemned the attack and called on Congo's government to launch an immediate investigation and ensure that the perpetrators are "swiftly" brought to justice.

The council and the U.N. chief, in separate statements, also sent condolences to the Indian government and the families of the three soldiers and expressed strong support for the U.N. peacekeeping mission. The council demanded that "all parties cooperate fully" with its operations.

In a statement Wednesday, the French Foreign Ministry "condemned with the greatest possible firmness the attack" in Kirumba.

"This crime mustn't go unpunished and everything possible must be done to detain those responsible and bring them to justice," the statement said, adding that France presented its condolences to the victims' families.

Repeated rebel attacks in Congo have called into question the ability of the U.N. force to protect civilians. The mission known as MONUC has lost more than 100 peacekeepers since 1999.

Congo's president has said that he wants all the peacekeepers out before September 2011 and the U.N. started a nominal withdrawal last month. U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes and humanitarian groups, though, have warned that violence may spiral out of control if the peacekeepers all leave.

Rebels ousted longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, then turned on each other in back-to-back civil wars that became an international scramble for the country's minerals and drew in soldiers from more than a half-dozen African nations.

The $1.35 billion-a-year U.N. mission helped hold Congo's first democratic elections in 40 years in 2006, though results were disputed and critics said the process favored the incumbent, Joseph Kabila.

Kirumba is around 90 miles (150 kilometers) north of Goma, the capital of the volatile North Kivu province.


Associated Press writers Ashok Sharma in New Delhi and Edith M. Lederer in New York contributed to this report from New Delhi.