Kizima Ndeka Bwanga, DRC "I have been a Mai-Mai fighter since 1998"

Kizima Ndeka Bwanga, 50, a father of five, is a former Mai-Mai fighter from the Democratic Republic of Congo's Katanga Province, who disarmed in August with 250 former combatants hoping for a better future.

However, at this moment, life has been bleak for men such as Ndeka. Most feel neglected: they lack food, medical care, schools and roads.

Ndeka, an extremely superstitious man who wears charms around his neck, has undergone ritual sacrifice that supposedly protects him from enemy gunfire. He is from the village of Mwenga, 100 km from Kankonona Camp where he and other former militiamen are now hosted. He speaks about his experience as a militiaman as well as his frustrations as he begins civilian life:

"We decided voluntarily to demobilise after having fought the government due to atrocities it committed against civilians. We want to return to our villages but we have been neglected. We lack food, schools, hospitals and roads.

"I was a farmer before I joined the Mai-Mai. Three of my children are also fighters for the Mai-Mai. I had two wives but one has since died and the other one is displaced in the neighbouring village of Kolomani, half-a-kilometre from Kankonona.

"I have been a Mai-Mai fighter since 1998 when the mainly Rwandan and Ugandan-backed rebel movement began its operations against the government. After having demobilised in August, with other 250 colleagues with whom we were attached to our leader, Fidel Ntumbi, I now find myself neglected in Kankonona.

"Sacrifices have been offered to protect me, even from enemy fire. I am immune to enemy fire as long as I respect my ancestors. If I go contrary to this, I will die on the battlefield. I must neither steal nor rape nor commit any other forbidden act.

"I was among those who voluntarily demobilised about two years ago but I remained sympathetic to my group's cause and was obliged to take up arms again during the fighting that has erupted since 2005. Under [former president] Mzee Laurent-Desire Kabila, we were an armed self-defence force, which fought against foreign occupation that supported rebel movements, but now that the situation has changed, we are now obliged to fight against the government army.

"If you heard about the clashes between the Mai-Mai and the former Congolese army, it is because we wanted to end the incessant atrocities committed by those soldiers against the civilians in the Ngani location and Moba Territory [both in Katanga]. We had no choice; we had to fight. They raped our wives, sisters and children; looted our homes, plundered our harvests and property; and burned our villages and farms.

"Like most of my colleagues, I would like to reintegrate into civilian life but I am unable to do so without help. We are forced to live under miserable conditions with other displaced people as we await a solution. We are suffering.

"We disarmed due to the pain and the suffering we endured and since we could no longer tolerate it. We also yielded to the demands of our leader, Fidel Ntumbi. We have suffered due to our desire to defend ourselves from the aggressor.

"Upon being demobilised, however, we continue to encounter problems: we have not returned to our homes, we cannot cultivate because we do not own any property and are in a similar predicament as the displaced in Mwenga. In fact, we are virtually abandoned. We are under the responsibility of MONUC [the United Nations Mission in the Congo]. The national demobilisation commission, CONADER, hardly takes care of us. It has not contacted us for demobilisation.

"Since regrouping on 27 August here in Kankonona, our hope of acquiring a certificate or a demobilisation kit remains a pipe-dream since CONADER appears least concerned. We have little or nothing to eat. We sleep on the floor. MONUC gives us a bit of food. However, it is insufficient given the large numbers, even with adults skipping meals.

"We would like to reclaim our villages, but we have no schools and hospitals. The roads are inaccessible and are in a pathetic state. We have disarmed and have been living as prisoners since then."

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