CONGO: Purchase of illegal weapons under way
Workers in an army artillery base in Brazzaville saw up guns due for the incinerator in a nationwide disarmament effort - file photo
BRAZZAVILE, 13 February 2009 (IRIN) - The Congolese government has started an operation to buy 3,000 weapons from ex-combatants and others illegally possessing weapons in the Pool region, southern Congo, an official told IRIN on 11 February.
"Teams have been deployed on the ground. The operation to buy up the weapons started on 10 February in Pool region. It should allow the purchase of at least 3,000 weapons still in circulation in this zone," Moandzibi Olingoba, commissioner in charge of the reintegration of ex-combatants, told IRIN.
According to Olingoba, about 17 offices where weapons can be handed in have been opened throughout Pool.
"There are also special sites for the destruction of the weapons collected," he added.
He said the operation would last 11 days. "Everything has been done to prevent people getting injured during the destruction of the weapons."
The operation has funding of 500 million CFA francs (US$1 million) from the government. Its main target is the 5,000 ex-combatant Ninjas still active under the former rebel chief, Frédéric Bintsamou, alias Pasteur Ntoumi, who has been cut off in his Pool stronghold for more than 10 years.
According to the deputy high commissioner for the reintegration of ex-combatants, Col François Bouesse, the buy-back price for a Kalashnikov is 100,000 CFA francs ($200).
"The more weapons ex-combatants bring in, the more money they will get," Bouesse said.
Pool was the scene of violent clashes between government forces and Ninja rebels from 1998 to 2003, leaving many thousands of victims and displaced people.
Displaced persons who have managed to get back their land are struggling to receive basic social services, despite the re-establishment of peace, according to humanitarian NGOs familiar with the region.
A study published in 2005 by the Small Arms Survey, based in Geneva, reveals that some 34,000 illegal arms are circulating in Congo, most of them in Pool, which also covers Brazzaville, the capital.
No other study on the circulation of weapons has been conducted since then. However, the government in June 2008 launched the National Programme for Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reintegration covering 30,000 ex-combatants, 5,000 of whom are close to Ntoumi.
The programme has US$17 million funding from the World Bank.