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Nearly 200 Mayi-Mayi combatants surrender in Katanga

KINSHASA, 8 May 2006 (IRIN) - Close to 200 Mayi-Mayi fighters have surrendered with their weapons to United Nations peacekeeping troops in north and central Katanga Province, in the southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Kemal Saiki, spokesman for the UN Mission in the DRC , said a large number of child soldiers were among the group. They surrendered on Saturday at Mitwaba, 700km north of Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga.

On Monday, the peacekeepers handed over some of the Mayi-Mayi to the regular army. "Among them are 50 men and 100 women and children," said Jean-Willy Mutombo, spokesman for the chief of general staff of the national army.

Mutombo said the leader of the group, who is known as Gedeon, had expressed a desire to surrender but wanted guarantees of his security before doing so. Gedeon also wanted to see how those who surrendered were treated before considering his own capitulation.

"Only about another 200 Mayi-Mayi men are left, and they cannot hold out for much longer," Mutombo said.

Northern and central Katanga has been the scene of widespread insecurity that threatens to jeopardise the upcoming presidential and general elections, due to begin on 30 July. The Mayi-Mayi, formerly allied with the government in its war against rebels in the east of the country, has been slow to disarm, despite a government order. The government launched an operation in November 2005 to disarm all rebel and foreign groups in DRC. Aid agencies estimate that the fighting has displaced 150,000 people.

The disarmament effort could help create an environment conducive to the elections. Voter registration has not taken place in some areas of north and central Katanga because of the insecurity.

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