Alexa

U.N. secretary-general pays homage to slain U.N. troops in Congo

U.N. secretary-general pays homage to slain U.N. troops in Congo

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon bowed his head Sunday before a memorial honoring the 53 U.N. peacekeepers killed in Congo, which hosts the world body's largest peacekeeping force in the world.
Ban chose a memorial to the U.N.'s sacrifices here as the stage for the second day of his tour of the continent, his first as the U.N.'s new chief.
Bearing a bouquet of red and violet flowers, Ban approached the plaque containing the names of the dead, gently placing the blossoms at its base. He stood in silence, then bowed his head.
Of the 53 peacekeepers killed in Congo, 38 have died in the lawless eastern half of the country since the 18,000-strong peacekeeping mission began in 1999, said local U.N. commander Charles du Bois, speaking in this northeastern town on the curving banks of the Congo River, deep inside the country's thickly forested interior.
Congo was divided by rival rebel factions during the nation's 1998-2002 war. The country was reunited under a peace deal that paved the way for elections last year, but the fledgling army _ backed by U.N. troops _ has struggled for years to keep peace in the volatile east, where battles against and between myriad militia groups and renegade soldiers take place sporadically.
Nine U.N. personnel were killed in Congo last year, including eight Guatemalan peacekeepers who were ambushed by Ugandan rebels in the lawless east.
Peacekeepers and their role in Africa have been high on Ban's radar. The U.N. mandate in Congo is up for renewal next month and international aid groups have expressed concern that a U.N. pullout could unhinge the country's fragile peace.
Although no pullout is expected imminently, Ban tried to allay fears, stressing that the U.N. backs Congo's nascent democracy.
"I have no intention _ nor does the United Nations, nor the international community _ of abandoning the Democratic Republic of Congo to its fate. By contrast, we want to support its government and its people in the pursuit of democracy," he said, following a one-hour meeting with Congo's president, Joseph Kabila.
On Saturday, in a meeting with the president of neighboring Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, Ban also called on Sudan to allow a proposed hybrid peacekeeping force into Darfur, where fighting has continued despite the presence of 7,000 AU troops. The U.N. wants to more the double the size of the force to make it more effective, and put U.N. boots on the ground there.
Sassou-Nguesso is also chairman of the African Union.
Later on Sunday, Ban heads to Ethiopia, where African heads of state are expected to address the Darfur issue at the African Union summit. Ban was sworn in as the eighth secretary-general of the U.N. six weeks ago, replacing Kofi Annan of Ghana who served for 10 years.
His first official tour of the African continent began Saturday with a visit to Congo's capital, Kinshasa, where he praised the Congolese for putting aside decades of conflict and choosing their first democratically elected president since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960.