KINSHASA, 6 November 2007 (IRIN) - A senior DRC official has declared the war-ravaged northeastern region of Ituri free of armed groups after 16 senior commanders flew to Kinshasa to join the regular army.
Photo: Tiggy Ridley/IRIN
Young militiamen stand guard in Ituri
"There are no more armed groups in Ituri because now that the heads of the three main militias have arrived, there remain only a few isolated elements of the FPRI [Front des resistants patriotes de l'Ituri - Ituri Patriotic Resistance Front]," said Ntumba Luaba, the coordinator of the National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration.
Among the 16 who left Ituri on 2 November were leaders of the Congolese Revolutionary Movement (MRC) and the Front of the Integrationist Nationalists (FNI).
Clashes rooted in tensions between Ituri's two main ethnic groups, the Hema and the Lendu, have claimed thousands of lives since 1999, while many more civilians have been displaced.
All of Ituri's ethnic groups are "represented" in the military integration process, according to the UN Mission in DRC, MONUC.
Those who travelled to Kinshasa stressed their commitment to seeing peace return to Ituri.
"We are here to respond to the appeal by the head of state [President Joseph Kabila] and to rejoin the regular army," FNI leader Peter Karim told journalists in Kinshasa as he descended from a MONUC aircraft.
"We are re-integrating into the army because the army is our profession," said Matthieu Ngudjolo, the MRC leader.
"These are important leaders of armed groups with us now as senior army officers? peace is at hand," declared Colonel Abdalah Nyembo, who travelled with the group from Ituri.
Armed groups in Ituri have been widely accused of killing, maiming and raping civilians for years.
On October 18, one rebel leader, Germain Katanga, 29, was taken into the custody of the International Criminal Court in The Hague to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In January 2007, the ICC indicted Thomas Lubanga for war crimes, specifically the conscription of children into his militia. Lubanga, 46, was arrested on 17 March 2006 in Ituri, becoming the first suspect to be taken into ICC custody, two years after the tribunal's prosecutor launched investigations into his activities in the Ituri conflict.