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U.N. Peacekeeping Force Suffers Deadly Attack In Eastern Congo


Officials at the United Nations are stunned after a deadly attack yesterday on peacekeepers. It happened in a remote part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Fourteen peacekeepers were killed. So were five Congolese soldiers. At least 50 more troops were wounded. NPR's Michele Kelemen has more.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: According to U.N. officials, rebels attacked a U.N. base in eastern Congo at dusk on Thursday, sparking a three-hour firefight into the night the likes of which officials haven't seen in decades.


ANTONIO GUTERRES: This is the worst attack on U.N. peacekeepers in the organization's recent history.

KELEMEN: That's U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who expressed outrage and heartbreak for the Tanzanian peacekeepers who were killed.


GUTERRES: I condemn this attack unequivocally. And these deliberate attacks against U.N. peacekeepers are unacceptable and constitute a war crime.

KELEMEN: U.N. officials believe a Ugandan-based rebel group known as the Allied Democratic Forces, or ADF, was to blame. It's one of many rebel groups in Congo that has been active in that mineral-rich part of the country. The director of U.N. operations, Ian Sinclair, says the base that was targeted is remote on the edge of a jungle near a town called Beni.


IAN SINCLAIR: The reason the base is there together with a number of bases is to seek to control that particular access, which is a major route into the Beni area and which groups like the ADF use to pass supplies, men and material, up and down. The reason the base is also there is clearly to help protect civilians against attacks from this particular group.

KELEMEN: The head of U.N. peacekeeping, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, says the group has various agendas, including the exploitation of resources. He's planning to go to Congo to show solidarity with the U.N. mission, which has been, in his words, increasing the tempo of operations to deter rebels in that area.


JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX: We are disturbing this group. They don't want us there. And I think these attacks is a response to our increasingly robust posture in that region.

KELEMEN: It's not the only place where U.N. peacekeepers have come under attack. Earlier this week, when Undersecretary General Lacroix was here in Washington, we spoke about other dangerous missions in Mali, where 33 peacekeepers have been killed this year, and Central African Republic, where 14 have been killed in recent months.

LACROIX: What is relatively new is that we're targeted because we're the U.N. You know, because we promote peace we are being attacked. And so are humanitarian workers as well.

KELEMEN: The undersecretary general was here to meet Trump administration officials to talk about ways the U.S. could help on this and on broader peacekeeping needs.

LACROIX: It's not only about, you know, having better protection, better equipment, better armored vehicles. And, you know, all of this is very important. But it's also about having a different posture. It's about better anticipating threats, you know, before they fall on us, being more cognizant, being more aware of our environment.

KELEMEN: The Trump administration has been looking for cost savings in peacekeeping, and Ambassador Nikki Haley said earlier this year that she was proud that the Security Council voted to cut the troop ceiling in Democratic Republic of Congo. Today she expressed condolences to the families of the peacekeepers who were killed there.


NIKKI HALEY: We are horrified by this cowardly attack on those who were sent to protect the most vulnerable.

KELEMEN: Council members had a moment of silence at their meeting, where they then passed a resolution supporting five African countries fighting terrorism in the Sahel. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. 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.