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Violent clashes erupt in Congo

U.N. estimates 500 dead in recent Hema-Lendu fighting

French soldiers take up positions outside the U.N. compound in Bunia on Saturday.
French soldiers take up positions outside the U.N. compound in Bunia on Saturday.

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CNN's Catherine Bond on how fighting has broken out in the town of Bunia.
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French troops have arrived in Bunia, Congo, to act as a stabilizing force.
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CNN's Catherine Bond on life at a U.N. camp in Bunia, in northeastern Congo.
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The people of Bunia have suffered under the Lendu ethnic group and Hema minority.
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BUNIA, Democratic Republic of Congo (CNN) -- A day after French troops arrived here on a mission to quell ethnic violence, fighting erupted between rival militias Saturday in this northeastern Congolese town.

According to press photographers, Lendu militia attacked road-blocks set up by the Hema minority and pushed the Hema fighters -- who have been in control of Bunia -- further back into the town.

"We've been caught right in the middle of this," CNN Correspondent Catherine Bond said, from a compound in central Bunia housing journalists.

At least three people were injured in Saturday's violence, Bond reported.

After four hours of fighting, the Lendu militia appeared to have withdrawn to the southern part of the town, according to Col. Daniel Vollot, head of the U.N. force in Bunia. However, Vollot said it was possible for both militias to resume fighting after resupplying their ammunition.

The contingent of French troops remained at Bunia's airport to secure the area for the arrival of more forces. So far, the forces have not intervened in the fighting, as they wait for more troops and weaponry.

The United Nations estimates 500 people have died in recent violence between the rival Hema minority and Lendu majority, fighting for control of Bunia, the capital of the Ituri province.

Chaos has taken over the province since the recent pull-out of Ugandan troops, responding to last year's peace accord to end the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo that involved five other African nations and has been dubbed Africa's World War.

The advance group of French troops arrived Friday morning. They are part of a 1,400-strong European Union intervention force, led by France, who were asked by the U.N. Security Council to help immediately secure the troubled region until U.N. troops arrive in September.

Over the next few days, the French contingent -- about 700 troops -- will arrive in Bunia and begin their mission, which has been described as "complex."

The forces have "robust rules of engagement" to deal with the militias in Bunia, one French military official said.

The goal of the international force will be to remove the armed groups from Bunia and restore order to the town, as U.N. peacekeepers try to negotiate the disarmament of the militias.

The U.N. peacekeepers do not have a mandate to intervene in the conflict. The U.N. force in Bunia is composed of 700 Uruguayan peacekeepers and some unarmed observers, two of whom were murdered and mutilated last month.

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