GUATEMALA CITY (EFE) – Guatemalan President Oscar Berger said Monday that the eight Guatemalan peacekeepers killed in a clash in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were “heroes.”
“Sadly, they died, but they are a symbol that Guatemala can participate in processes in support of democracy, in support of liberty, in support of peace, and if that is our task, we will continue to do it,” Berger said.
Berger, who is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces, said the other Guatemalan peacekeepers would continue their mission in the troubled African nation.
The Guatemalan peacekeeping contingent, which traveled to Congo on Nov. 23, was made up of 105 soldiers.
Berger expressed his condolences to the families of the dead soldiers and said the possibility of providing compensation to the peacekeepers’ relatives would be examined.
He said he was awaiting a call from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and had received a condolence call and offer of help in bringing home the bodies of the fallen peacekeepers from the U.S. Embassy.
Army spokesman Jorge Ortega said that the names of the eight dead and at least 14 wounded soldiers were not yet known.
“It’s part of the cost of achieving peace,” Ortega said.
Opposition Congressman Mario Rayo said Congress would issue a declaration to honor the fallen soldiers and they would likely be granted posthumous decorations.
Fighters belonging to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) ambushed the Guatemalan peacekeepers in Garamba National Park, near the border with Uganda and Sudan. The peacekeepers, members of the Guatemalan army’s special forces, were taking part in an operation that started two weeks ago in the national park.
The clash broke out when the peacekeepers made contact with the rebel fighters at dawn, and the fighting lasted nearly four hours, according to the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).
The United Nations Staff Union said earlier this month that the most dangerous place in the world for U.N. employees in 2005 was the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where 13 staffers were killed last year.
A new contingent of Guatemalan troops left for Haiti Monday to join the U.N. peacekeeping force there. The unit, the third Guatemalan contingent to take part in the United Nations Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH) in Haiti, consists of 80 soldiers, 40 of whom traveled to the troubled Caribbean island Monday.