Militia group dismantled as 416 fighters surrender guns

The remaining 416 militiamen of the Forces armees du peuple congolais (FAPC) surrendered their guns to UN troops on Wednesday, effectively dismantling the movement and boosting efforts to pacify the troubled Ituri District in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

"The FAPC no longer exists. This movement is now history," Kwaje Duku, a Congolese army colonel heading the government-run National Disarmament Commission in Ituri, said.

The militiamen, loyal to Jerome Kakwavu-Bukande, surrendered at Mount Awa, 25 km from Aru in northern Ituri. They can either enter the programme for disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) into civilian life or be integrated into the new national Congolese army.

FAPC has already said 2,014 of its fighters have disarmed, among them 251 children. The adult fighters are being registered after which they will be sent to Aru and provided food aid and undergo four days of counselling in transit sites before choosing whether to integrate into the army or return to civilian life.

However, rather than surrender, some fighters have fled, Elongi Mabe, an ex-combatant who surrendered at Mount Awa on Wednesday, said.

"There are some recalcitrant people who refused to be disarmed," he said. "They are fleeing to Uganda and Sudan. Others have buried their weapons in the villages."

Duku said these were isolated cases and the culprits would be considered as bandits.

Meanwhile, at a news conference in Kinshasa, the nation's capital, the military chief of staff of the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), Col Jean-Francois Collot d' Escury, said on Wednesday the UN knew the fighters were fleeing or hiding and would hunt them down.

"We are going to pursue them," Escury said.

MONUC said by Wednesday a total of 10,020 ex-combatants, form various movements, had entered the DDR process in Ituri, leaving some 2,000 more to be disarmed. There are at least seven militia groups in Ituri.

In Bunia, the main town in Ituri, a MONUC public information officer, Mohammad Abdul Wahab, said the disarmament programme would continue to accept militiamen even though MONUC's 1 April deadline to hand in guns had expired.

Fighters below 18 years old were among those who presented themselves for disarmament at Mount Awa, although not all were combatants. They are considered as minors and as hostages of the militias, rather than "outlaws".

Such children are now being referred to as "children associated with armed groups", not child soldiers. Typically, their non-combat tasks include cooking, acting as porters and, for the girls, being "wives" to older fighters.

0ne of them, Mama Safi, is a girl-mother who turned up at Mount Awa on Wednesday. She does not know the whereabouts of her child's father.

"I have an orphan child, who was separated from his father during a raid by [UN] Nepalese troops," she said.