The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has transferred 16 former commanders of Ituri armed groups to Kinshasa, calling it a major step in consolidating peace in the northeastern part of the country.
The transfer, which took place on Saturday by a special UN flight, was the result of 18 months of intense negotiations with the de facto leaders of the three remaining Ituri Armed Groups, according to the mission, known as MONUC.
The former militia leaders include Cobra Matata of Front de Resistance Patriotique en Ituri (FRPI); Peter Karim of Front des Nationalistes Integrationnistes (FNI); and Mathieu Ngudjolo of Mouvement Revolutionnaire Congolais (MRC).
They were escorted from Bunia by Colonel Abdalah Nyembo, second in command in Ituri for the national armed forces - known as FARDC - and Ntumba Luaba, head of the national disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme.
"The departure of these leaders from Bunia marks a dramatic step forward in the consolidation of the peace process in Ituri and signals a possibility of ending more than eight years of conflict," the Mission stated.
The 16 will receive training in Kinshasa while the majority of their disarmed fighters - about 300 men - will join the "brassage" retraining programme for ex-combatants in the town of Kitona to become part of integrated FARDC brigades.
Another 44 Ituri ex-combatants were flown by the Congolese government to the Kitona brassage site on Saturday.