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U.N. Peacekeepers Killed In Congo Firefight


We are learning about a deadly attack against U.N. peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This happened yesterday. And according to the U.N., 14 peacekeepers have been killed and at least 50 other people injured. This attack happened yesterday in a remote area in the east of that country, where hostilities have been ongoing for years. Joining us now - NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. Michele, what can you tell us? What do we know at this point?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Well, we're hearing about a three-hour firefight that started at dusk on Thursday. A rebel group attacked this forward-operating base 70 kilometers outside of Beni, which is a town in Eastern Congo. That's an area that's mineral rich but also had - has seen a lot of conflict. Fourteen people were killed, over 40 injured. I'm hearing that reinforcements and medevac teams are on the ground now, as is the force commander. And U.N. diplomat - an official I talked to a short time ago said this is the deadliest attack on U.N. peacekeepers that anyone can remember, at least in recent decades.

MARTIN: Wow. So can you just remind us, what is the fighting about in the Congo? What are the factions? And why has the U.N. been there for so long?

KELEMEN: The group that we're told was responsible for this attack is a Ugandan-based rebel group known as the ADF. Congo has been - you know, in the '90s, it was dubbed Africa's world war. There were rebel groups from all sorts of countries that were involved in this conflict. The U.N. has been involved for many years. The mission has changed over the years. There were some success stories more recently because they were getting more robust and pushing rebel groups back. But it always has been a very dangerous place. I talked earlier this week to the head of U.N. peacekeeping, Jean-Pierre Lacroix. He came into NPR studios. And here's what he talked about when he talks about the security concerns.

JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX: We have to work much harder to reduce the number of fatalities and to better protect ourselves, which means that if we better protect ourselves, we will also be able to better protect the population that we're serving.

KELEMEN: And, you know, he was - this was before the attack in Congo. We were actually talking about other very deadly incidents in Central African Republic and Mali, two other very difficult U.N. peacekeeping missions.

MARTIN: Michele, what's the U.S. position been? What's U.S. policy been on the Congo, on the U.S. - on the U.N. peacekeeping mission there?

KELEMEN: The U.S. has been trying to trim the budget for U.N. peacekeeping. That was a big push by Ambassador Nikki Haley. And including in Congo, where you've seen a decrease in the number of troops recently, whereas they've been beefing up in Central African Republic. But that was one of the things I talked about with Mr. Lacroix, that he's here, you know, asking for continued support, especially on things like securing peacekeepers.

MARTIN: NPR's Michele Kelemen. Thanks so much, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.