July 8, 2006

Congo militiamen free Nepalese UN peacekeepers

By David Lewis

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Militia fighters in Democratic
Republic of Congo on Saturday released five Nepalese U.N.
peacekeepers they had been holding hostage in the violent east
of the country since late May, U.N. officials said.

"They are free. They have been released," one of the
officials, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

Violence by rebels and renegade militia groups in the
volatile east has dogged preparations for historic elections
due on July 30, thwarting the efforts of the 17,000-strong U.N.
peacekeeping contingent in the Congo.

The five Nepalese freed were part of a group captured
during fighting in May in northeastern Ituri district by
militiamen loyal to Peter Karim, a warlord from the local Lendu
ethnic group.

Karim's militia, which had been demanding cash and freedom
for some of his fighters held by the government, freed two
other Nepalese soldiers on June 27.

A militia source said the five Nepalese were being brought
back from the bush by a delegation of U.N. negotiators and
leaders of the Lendu community.

The U.N. official said the freed soldiers were being taken
to Kwandroma, a Nepalese peacekeepers' base in Ituri.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had led appeals for the
release of the Nepalese but U.N. officials insisted no ransom
would be paid.

The July 30 presidential and parliamentary elections in the
Congo are meant to be the culmination of internationally backed
peace accords that ended a 1998-2003 war which sucked in six
neighboring countries.

But violence has persisted in several parts of the vast
country -- the size of western Europe -- and rights groups
estimate four million Congolese have been killed by conflict,
hunger and disease in one of the world's worst humanitarian