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U.N. Peacekeepers Honored In Tanzania

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Tanzania today, a solemn ceremony.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAND PLAYING)

GREENE: The bodies of 14 peacekeepers killed in Democratic Republic of Congo were welcomed home today with full military honors. And NPR's East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta was there. He joins us now from Tanzania. Hi, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So give us a sense of what the ceremony was like.

PERALTA: You know, it was a sad homecoming. The 14 caskets were lined up right next to each other. And all of them were draped with the Tanzanian flag. And, you know, these soldiers got a hero's welcome. As a military band played, dozens of service members marched alongside the caskets, and they saluted each one.

And Tanzania service members have really been hard hit these past few months. Three Tanzanian peacekeepers were killed in attacks in September and October. And last week, it was 14. And this is a big deal. The U.N. is calling it the deadliest attack in recent memory. And, you know, to give you an idea of scale, since this peacekeeping mission began in 2010, less than 100 peacekeepers have been killed. And this attack killed 14.

GREENE: So what does all of this mean for the future of this peacekeeping mission, Eyder?

PERALTA: You know, what we heard today was a resolve. The Tanzanian Prime Minister said that they will not pull troops out of Congo. And the U.N. peacekeeping chief, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, issued a stern warning. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX: Attacking U.N. peacekeepers is a war crime. And those responsible for this attack have to be brought to justice.

PERALTA: And, you know, for the region, keeping Congo stable is a big deal in part because this region already has a refugee problem that's getting worse.

GREENE: Well, you know, I guess we could use this tragedy as a moment to ask you about Congo - this country that people might not know so much about. And what are the conditions that led to this violence?

PERALTA: Yeah, there's a lot going on in Congo. I think one of the things that we have to keep in mind is that it's a huge country. It spans, you know, the African continent from east to west. And this attack happened in the eastern part of Congo. And what's going on there goes back years. There's a number of rebel groups fighting for minerals in the area. And that's the same area that has always seen proxy wars between African countries.

But right now, the country is actually going through a constitutional and an electoral crisis because the president, Joseph Kabila, has overstayed his term and has refused to hold elections. Right now, there are elections, however, scheduled to be held at the end of next year. But still, we've seen lots of protests in the country and lots of unrest.

GREENE: That's NPR's East Africa correspondent, Eyder Peralta. Eyder, thanks.

PERALTA: Thank you, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE AMERICAN DOLLAR'S "STEELTOWN (PART ONE)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.