KINSHASA, 10 Feb 2005 (IRIN) - Leaders of two Mayi-Mayi militia groups in the southeastern province of Katanga in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) agreed on Tuesday to disarm their combatants during a ceremonial destruction of weapons in the provincial capital, Lubumbashi.
"I am now ready to bring in 20,000 of my children [combatants] to be integrated into the national army," the head of the largest militia, Mbayo Mpiana Mwana Butot, known as Sobribet de Chinzachinza, told IRIN.
An estimated 30 percent of Chinzachinza's combatants are children.
Another militia leader who also attended the ceremony, Bakanda Baroka, controls an estimated 7,000 militiamen.
The weapons destroyed on Tuesday included 540 AK-47 rifles, one machine gun with a viewfinder, 156 grenades and 20 poison arrows.
The weapons were handed to a Congolese NGO, Paix et Reconciliation (PAREC). "In exchange, we provided 800 bikes," Pastor Ngoyi Mulunda, who runs PAREC, said.
However, he said, "There are still a lot of arms that haven't been recovered". Chinzachinza's militia is estimated to still hold 20,000 weapons.
Ngoyi said on Thursday the two militia leaders were scheduled to travel to the capital, Kinshasa, on 12 February to meet with senior officials in the national army and negotiate positions for themselves in the army.
Both militias have their strongholds in northern Katanga. The combatants comprise Mayi-Mayi as well as civilian defence forces created by the former government to check the advance by the then Rwandan-backed rebel Rassemblement Congolais pour la democratie (RCD-Goma). The RCD-Goma has since been integrated into the national army.
Despite signing a nationwide peace agreement in December 2002, the two militias continued to fight each other as well as against the national army.
"Everyone is still armed, even the civilian population," Ngoyi said. "They fear that trouble will start again."
Violence occurs every year during the corn-harvesting season when the militias pillage produce, he said.
Human rights groups and the UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, have reported numerous atrocities committed against civilians, including cannibalism.
Chinzachinza denied the accusation on Tuesday saying, "We don't eat people."