UNITED NATIONS, July 13 (Reuters) - U.N. peacekeepers must speed the repatriation of foreign fighters in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and work harder to build up the army there following the latest civilian massacre in the region, a senior U.N. official said on Wednesday.
"We have to get the foreign armed groups out of the Kivus as quickly as possible," William Swing, the U.N. special envoy for Congo, told reporters after briefing the Security Council on the killing of some 50 people in South Kivu province.
While some 12,000 fighters had already been sent home, the pace has slowed to a crawl in the past year, he said.
Congolese troops, for their part, needed better logistic support and soldiers are not always been paid, fueling instability, Swing said. But no definitive list of Congo's soldiers exists and a census of the country's military is still under way, he added.
Swing flew to New York to address the council after the United Nations reported that Rwandan rebels had burned 39 people alive on Saturday in the village of Mtulumamba, some 25 miles (40 km) west of Bukavu.
U.N. officials later said the death toll was around 50. The initial body count had been conducted after some victims had already been buried.
Rwandan Hutu militias, many of whom fled their homeland for neighboring Congo after carrying out the 1994 genocide there, have been active in eastern Congo for some time.
The U.N. mission in Congo, known as MONUC, has long been accused of doing too little to protect civilians. But it has stepped up operations in the east this year, and some locals said the attack on Mtulumamba had been meant to punish the village for supporting the peacekeepers.
Retaliation was "a theory that cannot be excluded" but the killings were still under investigation, Swing said.
After the briefing, the council approved a statement condemning the killings "with utmost firmness" and calling on Congo's government to bring the killers to justice.
Such attacks by armed groups "not only cause further suffering to civilians but also threaten the stability of the entire region as well as the holding of elections," it said.
Despite the massacre, Swing said it was "quite clear" the country was closer to holding long-delayed democratic elections than at any time since its first elections in 1960.
"There is a lot coming together there that makes these elections pretty much irreversible at this point," he said.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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