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U.N. troops 'die in Congo ambush'

Democratic Republic of Congo
United Nations

(CNN) -- At least nine U.N. peacekeepers have been killed after unidentified gunmen attacked two patrols in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the U.N.

All of the peacekeepers were from Bangladesh, Undersecretary General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno said.

One U.N. source said it was unclear how many troops had been on patrol but the number should have been between 20 and 30. He said 90 peacekeepers backed by two Mi25 attack helicopters had since been sent to the scene.

The government of Bangladesh expressed shock at the deaths. "The nation will always remember the supreme sacrifices made by the Bangladeshi peacekeepers. Arrangements are being made to bring home the dead as soon as possible," the defense ministry said in a statement.

U.N. peacekeepers, who have been in the war-torn central African country since November 1999, increased their presence in the eastern region of Ituri in May 2003 after an increase of ethnic violence in the region.

The U.N. force in Ituri is made up of four contingents of 850 soldiers each from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Morocco and Nepal.

Fighting between Hema and Lendu tribes in the region, one of Congo's worst troublespots, has claimed more than 50,000 lives since 1999, according to the United Nations.

The former Zaire is struggling to recover from a wider five-year war that at one stage sucked in six neighboring countries and has killed nearly 4 million people, according to some estimates.

About one third of the world's biggest U.N. peacekeeping mission is based in Ituri but attacks on civilians remain frequent.

Clashes between militia during the last two months alone have displaced some 70,000 civilians, aid workers say.

CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.

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