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More multinational troops deploy in Bunia

[DRC - Uganda] French troops prepare to load an armoured personnel carrier into a plane at Entebbe International Airport, Uganda, for use by a multinational force being deployed in Bunia, eastern DRC. 11 June 2003

So far 250 soldiers, out of an estimated 1,500 for the multinational force authorised by the UN for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), have already deployed in Bunia, eastern DRC, to begin the task of restoring order in the town, French military sources said on Wednesday.

Another 450 logistical support staff are camped at Uganda's Entebbe International Airport, which also serves as an airbase, setting up transport and communications networks for the mission.

French army spokesperson Capt Frederic Solano told IRIN, "By this [Wednesday] morning, there were 700 people in Entebbe and Bunia. We are expecting another 200 to arrive in Entebbe today and we will be carrying another 70-100 ground troops from Entebbe to Bunia, also today."

The bulk of the force are military personnel from France, with a Belgian and a Canadian support team. "We want it to be noted that they are not all French," Solano said. "This is a multinational effort. We have 60 Canadians and 20 Belgians working on the logistical side already".

The French troops were mainly from the elite 3rd Infantry Paratrooper Regiment, with some from the special forces. Solano said it was not yet clear what the final composition of the international peacekeeping force would be.

"Which country contributes what to the deployment of troops hasn't been determined," he told IRIN. "These are political decisions. But we do know that a great many countries want to participate in this."

Entebbe's military airbase was a hive of activity on Wednesday. Canadian Air Force C-130 planes could be seen shipping tanks, munitions and equipment out of Entebbe to Bunia as teams of military engineers continued to prepare the airbase for the mission, erecting masts and building laptop computer networks inside the airbase's numerous hangers.

"We intend to have the whole operation fully running within three weeks. We still need to set up a headquarters in Bunia to coordinate medicine, transport and supply lines," Solano said.

He added that no trouble had been recorded in Bunia since the initial deployment of the multinational force.

"We have been welcomed by the local people," Solano told IRIN. "There is no trouble in the town, not from [rebel leader Thomas] Lubanga or anyone else. Things are under control."

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