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UN chief vows continued support for DR Congo army

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Beni (DR Congo) (AFP)

UN chief Antonio Guterres on Sunday vowed continued support for the Democratic Republic of Congo, grappling with the double scourge of militia violence and an Ebola epidemic.

Visiting Beni in the country's east, the secretary general said the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO, the Congolese army and national police "will continue to work together to return peace and security to the region.

"We will do everything to bring an end to the scourge of insecurity."

The government blames the violence in large part on the Islamist-rooted Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) group that arose in western Uganda.

But there are also home-grown militia and other armed groups -- some 130 roam the North and South Kivu provinces of DR Congo, a vast country the size of western continental Europe.

The violence has claimed hundreds of civilian lives, and the inhabitants of Beni sometimes accuse UN soldiers of inaction against the ADF.

On Saturday, an army spokesman said the military would have liked that MONUSCO play its role as the armed forces prepared for an offensive on ADF.

"It is important that the population of Beni knows that we have heard their cries of distress," the UN chief said Sunday.

He added: "The best response to terrorism and violence is development."

The UN has one of its biggest peacekeeping missions in the DR Congo, with about 16,000 troops and an annual budget of over $1 billion.

The MONUSCO mandate official ends on December 31, and the UN has already closed bases and reduced civilian staff.

Twenty-seven UN blue helmets have died in the DR Congo.

Guterres will discuss the ongoing insecurity and the future of the UN in the DR Congo with President Felix Tshisekedi in Kinshasa on Monday.

- 'Courage' to visit -

The region of Beni is also stricken by an Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 2,000 people in a year -- two-thirds of those infected.

The UN chief visited an Ebola treatment centre at Mangina near Beni, where the epidemic started last August.

Containment efforts have been hindered by the conflict in the country's east, as well as attacks on health workers tackling Ebola in a population where mistrust of outsiders and superstition is rife.

Seven health workers have been killed and more than 50 seriously hurt, according to an unofficial tally of attacks.

Guterres urged people with "even the slightest suspicion" that they may be infected to visit their nearest health centre for a checkup.

"It is worth coming. There are people who might think: 'Well, I'm going to die, why should I go? No, it's not true. Those who come here can be cured. We must transmit this message to everybody. Don't hide your symptoms. Come," he said after meeting Ebola survivors.

Nurse Darlen was among hundreds of inhabitants, including many children, who swarmed the impressive UN convoy.

"We are pleased with his presence. It is a comforting visit that gives us even more courage and hope, which motivates us. We have been in this epidemic for a year," she said.

This is the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014 and 2016.

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