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Two Pilots Kidnapped in Main Congolese Tin-Mining Area, UN Says

A Ukrainian pilot and his Congolese co-pilot are still missing a day after being kidnapped by rebels near a major tin-trading center in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the United Nations said.

They were taken hostage after landing their plane in the middle of a battle between Congo’s army and a local rebel group over control of Kilambo airstrip in the Walikale territory of North Kivu province, Madnodje Mounoubai, spokesman for the UN mission in the central African country, said today.

Two Congolese soldiers were killed in the battle, Mounoubai said in an interview from the capital, Kinshasa. UN peacekeepers “have taken over security of the airstrip,” he said.

Kilambo, a road that doubles as an airstrip, is the main transit point for tin ore from Walikale’s Bisie mine, which accounts for 70 percent to 80 percent of North Kivu’s tin-ore production. Congo is the world’s fifth-largest producer of the metal, according to tin industry group ITRI Ltd.

Armed groups and some elements of the national army profit from the illicit trade in tin ore, coltan and gold from Walikale, according to human rights activists and the UN.

A local rebel group known as the Mai Mai Cheka and Rwandan Hutu rebels known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, operate near the airstrip. Both groups are suspected of attacking and looting 15 villages in Walikale between July 30 and Aug. 2, according to the UN.

At least 242 women were raped during the attacks, Giorgio Trombatore, country director for Santa Monica, U.S.-based International Medical Corps said by phone from Walikale today. IMC has been treating the victims at their health clinics in Walikale.

Four IMC employees were also stranded in the forest along the airstrip during yesterday’s fighting, Trombatore said. The aid workers were evacuated by UN helicopter after hiding from gunfire for more than four hours, he said.

Congolese army commander Col. Bobo Kakudji confirmed the attacks but declined to provide more details when contacted by phone today in Walikale.

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