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Newly integrated army brigade heading to the east

KINSHASA, 3 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - The latest brigade in the newly integrated army of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) completed training on Wednesday and is expected to deploy to the east of the country, Defence Minister Adolphe Onusumba said.

"The unit will provide security and help prepare the ground for the elections," he told IRIN on Thursday.

The brigade comprises of soldiers from various fighting forces that opposed each other during the country's civil war. Their leaders are now members of the transitional government.

Belgium and South African instructors trained the integrated brigade at a camp in the southeastern town of Kamina, Katanga Province.

The defence ministers of the DRC, Belgium and South Africa attended the brigade's passing out parade on Wednesday, handing out a certificate to each of the 3,240 soldiers.

On Thursday, the Belgium and South African defence ministers signed an agreement with the DRC in the capital, Kinshasa, to help train and integrate other army troops.

Senior officers have already been integrated into the DRC's army command structure but many rank and file soldiers remain in the same fighting groups that existed during the war.

Two other brigades have been officially integrated. They are now based in Bunia, the capital of troubled northeastern district of Ituri, conducting joint operations with UN troops.

The latest integrated brigade will be deployed to the province of South Kivu where two Rwandan Hutu rebel groups - the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda and the Rasta - are allegedly committing atrocities against the local population.

Onusumba said two more brigades would complete their training within the next two weeks.

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