UN accused of killing five civilians in DRCongo copter attack

UN peacekeeping forces watch a UN helicopter take off from an airstrip at Bunyakiri base in South Kivu province, DR Congo on February 25, 2006 (AFP Photo/Jose Cendon)

Kinshasa (AFP) - The governor of North Kivu province in the troubled eastern Democratic Republic of Congo told AFP on Thursday that five civilians had been killed in a UN helicopter attack against rebel fighters this week.

The MONUSCO force, the United Nations' largest peacekeeping mission worldwide, on Tuesday announced it had carried out a helicopter-backed raid on rebels Monday under "its mandate to protect civilians" in the central Pinga region.

The raids were targeted at the Nduma Defense of Congo group, blamed for setting villages on fire in the region in recent days.

Governor Julien Paluku told AFP by phone that he had met with "a delegation" that had visited the scene.

"The delegation confirms that MONUSCO pounded a village essentially made up of civilians" and "as of today... five civilians were killed," he said.

A member of the delegation, Rumbo Buna Theophile, who heads a local organisation, told AFP that the residents of Musanga village reported eight men hit by shrapnel, with four of them dead.

He said MONUSCO had provided no explanation for the attack "in this place where there were no... combattants".

MONUSCO did not "give an exact reason" and was "very reserved", he said.

Governor Paluku said he was calling urgent talks between MONUSCO and regional authorities to clarify why the village had been hit given that local authorities said there had been no violence by rebels in the area.

Asked for comment on Paluku's claim, the MONUSCO mission's public information chief Charles Bambara said it was too early to respond. "These deaths are not officially confirmed," he said.

Juvenal Munubo, an MP from the region and member of the parliamentary defence committee, said after meeting MONUSCO's deputy head David Gressly that the mission "must explain the context behind the incident".

The United Nations has 22,000 peacekeepers serving in the Democratic Republic of Congo's MONUSCO force.