DR Congo

U.N. force commander in DR Congo resigns

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UNITED NATIONS, Oct 27 (Reuters) - The commander of U.N. peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has resigned after just seven weeks in the job, the United Nations said on Monday as fresh fighting raged in the African country.

Lt. Gen. Vicente Diaz de Villegas of Spain "has indicated that for personal reasons he will not be able to continue with his assignment as planned," U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas told a regular news briefing.

The appointment of Diaz as force commander for the U.N. mission in Congo, known by its French acronym MONUC, was announced on Sept. 9. The 17,000-strong peacekeeping force in the country is the largest the world body maintains anywhere.

A January peace deal collapsed in August in Congo, where a 1998-2003 war and resulting humanitarian disaster have killed an estimated 5.4 million people, most through hunger and disease.

Congolese Tutsi insurgents advanced towards the strategic eastern city of Goma on Monday after launching a new offensive over the weekend. Local people angered by the fighting rioted at the U.N. base in the town, and one person was killed, a U.N. spokesman said.

Fighters loyal to renegade Gen. Laurent Nkunda overran an army base on Sunday north of Goma. Rebel rockets destroyed two MONUC armored vehicles during Sunday's clashes, wounding several peacekeepers.

Montas said the U.N. peacekeeping department was seeking to replace Diaz as soon as possible, and that meanwhile Brig.-Gen. Ishmeel Ben Quartey of Ghana would serve as acting commander.

In a separate statement, Montas said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was extremely concerned by the deteriorating situation in eastern Congo and called on the government and provincial authorities to make every effort to restore calm.

Ban "reaffirms that MONUC will take all necessary measures within its mandate to protect civilians and United Nations personnel and property," she said.

(Reporting by Patrick Worsnip; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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