, DR CONGO, November 27- Six UN peacekeepers from Ukraine were arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo Wednesday for illegally being in possession of Congolese military uniforms.
The six were detained at Goma airport in the country’s restive east along with the supplier of the uniforms, a Congolese man, according to Lieutenant Colonel Olivier Hamuli, a spokesman for the Congolese army (FARDC).
The UN mission in the country, MONUSCO, confirmed the incident. Spokesman Charles-Antoine Bambara told AFP that the Ukrainians belonged to MONUSCO’s flight crew and were detained by Congolese security services on suspicion of “possession of Congolese uniforms”.
“Six new uniforms of the Republic Guard (tasked with protecting President Joseph Kabila) were discovered in their minibus,” said Emmanuel Lombe, commander of the military region covering North Kivu province.
The Ukrainians “said they intended to use them for hunting back home” once they finished their mission, he added.
The arrests come at a sensitive time for MONUSCO and the Congolese army, which are grappling with a worsening security situation in North Kivu province, of which Goma is the capital.
More than 200 people have been massacred around the North Kivu town of Beni since October in attacks blamed on Ugandan rebels from the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU), the last major insurgent group active in the region.
MONUSCO said it would fully cooperate with the Congolese authorities over the alleged trafficking of military uniforms.
Spokesman Bambara said the six Ukrainians were presumed innocent but he added that the mission had a “zero tolerance” policy regarding staff misconduct.
The 20,000-strong MONUSCO force, mostly deployed in the eastern DR Congo, is tasked with protecting the civilian population of the troubled mineral-rich region which has been prey to armed rebel groups for two decades.