French troops patrol the streets
of Bunia

The soldiers arrived by a military plane to the small airport of the north-eastern town.

The ground troops followed advance teams sent last week to secure the airport and prepare for the arrival of the 1,500-strong mission.

The intervention force is mandated by the United Nations and the European Union (EU) to use force if necessary.

Inter-ethnic clashes have claimed hundreds of lives in Bunia and the surrounding Ituri region in recent weeks. Tens of thousands of people have been killed since 1999.

On Monday about a dozen French soldiers arrived in Bunia from Gabon with military equipment, including armoured vehicles. 

A small United Nations force, MONUC, has been unable to halt a month of bloodshed as ethnic Hema and Lendu fighters battled for control of Bunia and the surrounding countryside.

Temporary mission

The new force, which will comprise mainly of French soldiers, will also be backed by jets. 

Its mission ends on 1 September and is only intended as a temporary measure to allow the world body to enforce MONUC.

The spokesman of the French-led force Captain Frederic Solano said the troops would need another three weeks to be fully up and running in Bunia.

He said within two or three days they would be in a position to begin their mission.

Aid agencies and rights groups say a powerful intervention
force needs to be deployed much more widely to control the
fighters.

Many are supported by regional governments who want a stake in Congo's mineral-rich soils.  

Troops from other European nations including Britain are
expected to contribute to the  force, which was approved
by the European Union last week and represents the bloc's first military deployment outside Europe.

Non-European countries such as South Africa and Canada are
also expected to participate in the force.