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U.N. paints Congo helicopters orange to protect against attacks

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The United Nations has painted bright orange its two white helicopters providing humanitarian relief in eastern Congo in an effort to protect them from militia attacks by distinguishing them from other aircraft.

Insecurity has worsened in east Congo since a rebel group known as the M23 – one of many armed militias active in the region – launched a fresh offensive last year.

Humanitarian operations to help the thousands of civilians displaced by the fighting have been caught up in the fighting.

Last year, the U.N. recorded 293 security incidents that affected relief missions to east Congo, resulting in the death of nine humanitarian workers. More than 20 were kidnapped last year.

The U.N. Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) unveiled the two repainted World Food Programme helicopters this week. Their colour is meant to avoid confusion with the white ones used by the U.N. peacekeeping mission MONUSCO, which have been attacked in the past.

But a civil society activist in the city of Goma was sceptical.

“This change of colour does not change the basic problem, which is insecurity,” Stewart Muhindo told Reuters via telephone.

“The fact that the humanitarian community is trying to stand out is proof that the United Nations system has failed in its peacekeeping mission,” he said, reflecting widespread frustrations against MONUSCO that frequently spurs protests.

Eight peacekeepers were killed when a MONUSCO helicopter on a reconnaissance mission crashed in the midst of rebel fighting in March last year. The government blamed the M23, which they denied.

In February, another peacekeeper was killed when a helicopter operated by the mission came under fire while in mid-air.

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