The bodies of 14 Tanzanian peacekeepers killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo by suspected Ugandan rebels were repatriated Monday, where the defence minister welcomed them as “heroes”.
The arrival of the plane carrying 14 white coffins covered with the UN’s blue flag was marked by a military ceremony at the international airport in Dar es Salaam.
“We are here to welcome our heroes,” Tanzanian defence minister Hussein Mwinyi said of the soldiers, all members of the Tanzania People’s Defence Forces.
They were killed on Thursday in the conflict-torn east of the country after clashes with suspected Ugandan Muslim rebels of the so-called Allied Democratic Forces.
The attack was the biggest single loss of peacekeepers in nearly a quarter of a century.
Tanzanian and Nepalese troops formed a guard for the 14 coffins, draped with the Tanzanian flag, in a ceremony near Beni in the North Kivu province before the bodies were flown home.
The UN had lowered the death toll to 14 from 15, with a further 53 injured. The Tanzanian press has said two other soldiers are missing.
“The death of our Tanzanian friends shall be written in the history of the Congolese nation, in tribute to their sacrifice,” said Congolese General Leon Mushale. “They will remain in the hearts of the Congolese people.”
David Gressly, the UN’s deputy special representative for the DR Congo, said the peacekeepers would not step back from their work.
“The Blue Helmets will continue to protect the people of Beni,” he said.
The attack is the bloodiest against MONUSCO, the UN force that was deployed in DRC in 1999, and the worst against a UN force since the death of 24 Pakistani peacekeepers in Somalia in June 1993.
The European Union on Monday said the “unacceptable attack… underscores the fragility of the security situation in eastern DRC, amplified by the current uncertainty over the country’s political situation.”
It called on the DR Congo authorities to carry out an inquiry “so that those responsible can be swiftly brought to justice,” according to an EU statement issued in Kinshasa.