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UN, Congolese troops destroy rebel camps in Virunga Park

KINSHASA, 1 Nov 2005 (IRIN) - UN and Congolese troops destroyed five rebel camps on Monday during a joint operation in the Virunga National Park, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a military spokesman for the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), Maj Hans Reichen, said.

"When the operation was launched, gunshots were exchanged between the Congolese army and militiamen," he said. "Militiamen held out [for] a long time and then escaped."

There were no reports of casualties during the "cordon and search" operation in the park in North Kivu Province, in which some 500 UN peacekeepers from the Indian contingent and 2,000 Congolese army soldiers took part.

Reichen said MONUC deployed four transport helicopters; three reconnaissance helicopters and three attack helicopters as well as armoured vehicles for the operation.

The operation follows the expiry of the deadline of an ultimatum by the commander of the 8th Military Region of the Congolese army, Gen Gabriel Amisi, for all local and foreign rebel groups to leave the park by 27 October.

Amisi's ultimatum was mainly directed at the Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda rebel group and the different Congolese Mayi-Mayi militias operating in the area.

Reichen said MONUC and the Congolese army had established a joint operations centre to coordinate the efforts of dismantling the rebel camps.

During the operation, UN troops surrounded the area while Congolese soldiers led the searches on the field.

The aim of the operation, which is scheduled to take several days, was to create a weapons-free area.

Reichen said 120 Mayi-Mayi fighters surrendered last week.

"No armed groups, FDLR or Mayi-Mayi, are supposed to stay in the park," he said.

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