UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- The United Nations says eight Guatemalan peacekeepers have been killed in a firefight with members of the Lord's Resistance Army in eastern Congo.
The losses suffered Monday by the U.N. Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known by its French acronym MONUC, are the most in a single U.N. combat clash in Africa for decades, a senior U.N. official told United Press International.
Monday's firefight lasted four hours and was supported by U.N. combat helicopters, said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.
"Peacekeepers from the Mission's Nepalese contingent were airlifted by helicopter into the scene of the fighting to cordon and search the area," said Dujarric. Five wounded peacekeepers were evacuated to a U.N hospital in Bunia, the capital of Ituri district in the Congo's northeast.
"Guatemalan peacekeepers had been engaged in reconnaissance activities in Garamba National Park in the country's northeast for the past 10 days," the spokesman said.
The patrols were in reaction to reports from civilians of an LRA presence. The Uganda-based LRA recently had been reported in southern Sudan but was also known to seek sanctuary in the Northeast DRC.
Annan condemned the killings in a statement read out by Dujarric and expressed condolences to Guatemala and the families of the victims.
The clash occurred about 43 miles from the border with Sudan in an area where thousands of innocent civilians have recently been displaced because of LRA activity.
Following the firefight, MONUC launched a search and rescue operation, which was successfully completed, the spokesman said.