Gurkhas to join Indian troops in Congo U.N. force

NEW DELHI Fri Nov 7, 2008 4:28pm IST

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India will send one of its most decorated army units to join a U.N. mission in Congo and support other Indian troops as Congolese rebels advance to seize fresh areas, the military said on Friday.

The 3rd battalion of the 3rd Gurkha Rifles regiment, first formed during World War One, will reach the Democratic Republic of Congo later this month and await deployment, a defence spokesman said in New Delhi.

"Hopefully the unit will play an important role," the spokesman said.

India already has about 4,000 troops serving in Congo. The Gurkha unit will replace the Sikh Light Infantry Battalion.

The decision to deploy the Gurkha unit comes days after New Delhi said it was concerned about its troops serving in Congo.

Advances last week by Tutsi rebels toward Goma, a major city in east Congo, have forced at least 200,000 people from their homes and further destabilized the already volatile North Kivu province.

Indian officials said some of their soldiers were seriously wounded last month when they were hit by rockets fired by rebels.

Sending supplies to troops in the area was also becoming increasingly difficult due to the intensified fighting.

"The Gurkhas are highly efficient and the decision to send the best men to the war-hit region to help out is correct," said A.K. Mitra, retired chief of India's Border Security Force.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for an immediate halt to fighting in eastern Congo and has urged all forces to withdraw to positions they held at the end of August.

He has called on all armed groups involved in the fighting to help work out a political solution to the crisis.

Some analysts say India should re-think sending its troops to Congo, fearing they could get caught in the crossfire.

"We don't know how long they will be deployed in Congo yet," a defence official said.

Indian peacekeepers in Congo have also been accused of sexual exploitation and abuse in the past.

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