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IANS

Six Pakistani peacekeepers have been killed along with two others when their helicopter went down in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the UN.

Confirming their deaths, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres's Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday that a search and rescue mission found their bodies.

The six crew members of the helicopter were from Pakistan and the two others on the flight were military personnel from Russia and Serbia, he said.

The helicopter that was on a reconnaissance mission in the area of Tshanzu, south-east of Rutshuru in North Kivu went down on Tuesday, he said.

"There have been clashes there between the M23 armed group and Congolese forces in recent days," he said.

The M23 is a rebel organisation that has regrouped after being routed nearly a decade ago by DRC troops and UN peacekeepers and it has launched attacks on the DRC military.

Intense fighting between the M23 and the DRC forces was reported starting Sunday.

Dujarric said that an investigation into the crash was underway.

AfricaNews, however, reported that according to the DRC armed forces, the helicopter was shot down.

It quoted a press release from the armed forces as saying, "The helicopter was one of the two MONUSCO reconnaissance helicopters with on board eight Blue helmets (peacekeepers) crew members and United Nations observers."

MONUSCO is the French acronym for the UN peacekeeping operation in the DRC.

South Asian peacekeepers dominate the 14,000-strong military segment of the operation with 1,974 from Pakistan, 1,888 from India, 1,634 from Bangladesh and 936 from Nepal.

The peacekeeping operations in the DRC -- the current MONUSCO and its previous version known as MONUC -- are among the deadliest with at least 400 killed.

Thirty Indian peacekeepers have died in the operations, as have 33 from Pakistan, 31 from Bangladesh and seven from Nepal.

(Arul Louis can be reached at arul.l@ians.in and followed on Twitter at @arulouis)

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