Key Ituri militia group declares end to war

The Union des patriotes Congolais (UPC), one of the major militia groups in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, announced on Wednesday an end to its insurrection in the district of Ituri.

"All those who refuse to adhere to the disarmament process will now be regarded as outlaws," John Tinanzabo, UPC's secretary-general, said in Bunia, Ituri's largest town.

He said the central government should now decide what to do with those he termed "armed gangsters", who remain outside the peace process. The UN Mission in the DRC, MONUC, had already given a 1 April deadline for all armed groups in the district to surrender their guns.

One of the militia groups, the Forces armees du peuple congolais, headed by Jerome Kakavu-Bukande, sent the remaining 416 of its militiamen to a disarmament site in Mount Awa, northern Ituri, on Wednesday. The Congolese government said this was the last of fighters from this movement, effectively ending their war.

While declaring an end to the UPC's war, Tinanzabo criticised the government for the continued detention of UPC leader Thomas Lubanga in Kinshasa, the nation's capital.

"He was arrested illegally and we will employ peaceful means to gain his release, even if it takes 27 years as with Nelson Mandela of South Africa," he said.

Lubanga was arrested in March following investigations into the killing of nine UN peacekeepers in February in Ituri. Other militia leaders were also arrested. They are Mandro Panga Kahwa of the coalition Parti pour l'unite la sauvegarde de l'integrite du Congo, Floribert Ndjabu of the Front des nationalistes et intergretionnistes and Germain Katanga of Forces de resistance patriotiques en Ituri.

Warrants of arrest are also out for officials of Ituri's seven armed groups, accused of human rights violations. They include Bosco Taganda, the UPC's chief of staff and his aide.

In addition, Tinanzabo was also arrested on Thursday - causing Bunia residents to demonstrate. Shop owners closed their premises and there was heavy police presence around the town's market to prevent looting.

Bunia's state prosecutor, Thomas Fiama, ordered Tinanzabo's arrest in connection with the death, three years ago, of Bulamuzi Mangilyo, the chief of the collectives of Badira Andisoma and Nyakunde, some 45 km southwest of Bunia.