Of particular concern to the UN was an incident on Monday, when a helicopter transporting MONUC Force Commander Gen Mountaga Diallo was fired on by an unidentified source while flying over Bunia bound for Beni, 15 minutes after it took off. Diallo had just concluded discussions with Thomas Lubanga, leader of the Union des patriotes congolais, an ethnic militia headquartered in Bunia.
Although a bullet penetrated the cockpit, no-one was hurt, and the flight continued without further incident, landing safely in Beni half an hour later.
"General Diallo discussed with Thomas Lubanga ways and means of starting the Ituri Pacification Commission. No progress was made and, despite the incident, for which we have opened an inquiry to identify those responsible, we are continuing to hold discussions," the MONUC spokesman, Hamadoun Toure, told a news conference on Wednesday in the DRC capital, Kinshasa.
According to MONUC, this was the first attack of its kind since the beginning of the year, and the fifth since the UN peacekeeping mission was established in the DRC in 1999. In a statement issued on Tuesday, MONUC condemned "in the strongest terms possible this unjustifiable attack", and reminded all parties of their responsibility to ensure the security of MONUC staff in the territories under their control.
Last week, Amos Namanga Ngongi, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative to the DRC and head of MONUC, warned that he would call on the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Lubanga for having prevented the signing of an Ituri ceasefire due to have taken place on 19 February.
"Ambassador Ngongi is currently in New York, but we think that Lubanga still has some time left to show his good faith in having peace restored in the region," Toure said, noting that he remained optimistic for the Ituri peace process. "We are not despairing for the continuation of the initiative we have undertaken," Toure said, adding, however, that no future date for the Ituri ceasefire or inauguration of the IPC had been set during the discussions held between Diallo and Lubanga.
In his latest report to the Security Council on the work of MONUC, Annan noted that one critical element for success of the peace process was the establishment of the IPC, particularly as the potentially explosive nature of the political and military situation in the northeast, and the possibility that outside forces might be drawn in are sources of major concern.
"The importance of a political solution to underpin any military disengagement and ceasefire is key," Annan said, urging all parties and states involved to engage constructively in establishing the IPC without delay, and to cooperate with MONUC's peace-making activities.
Meanwhile, technical committees charged with resolving pending matters of the inter-Congolese dialogue (ICD) have been under way since Monday in Pretoria, South Africa. These outstanding matters, which have remained unresolved since the signing of a peace accord by all parties to the ICD in Pretoria on 17 December 2002, are being addressed by two committees: the constitutional committee and the defence and security committee.
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