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Kinshasa to deploy police brigade to protect civilians in Ituri

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KINSHASA, 22 Feb 2005 (IRIN) - The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) plans to deploy a police brigade in the northeastern district of Ituri to protect civilians from militias, Interior Minister Théophile Mbemba told IRIN on Monday.

He said the transitional government was prepared to revoke an agreement, whereby armed groups were treated as political parties.

"I warn the political parties whose militias continue to commit such acts that they will face the cancellation of the agreement, which allows them to function as political parties," he said when visiting Baliba village, 35 km east of Bunia - the main town in Ituri.

Militias from the Front des nationalistes intégrationistes (FNI) had attacked in Baliba a day before Mbemba's visit, killing three people and wounding many others. The FNI is mainly composed of members of the Lendu community. The dead were from the Hema ethnic group.

A spokeswoman for the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), Rachel Eklou, said the FNI militia looted property and burnt down homes during the attack.

"The rest of the population fled towards the MONUC military camp in Djina village, where they were secure," she said.

Since January, the conflict between the Hema and the Lendu has displaced at least 70,000 people in the Djugu Territory of Ituri District. Some 10,000 people were reported to have fled across Lake Albert and into neighbouring Uganda.

Mbemba told IRIN the purpose of his visit east was to prepare the deployment of the Congolese integrated police, a force that MONUC helped establish in Kisangani, capital of Orientale Province, from former rebel factions.

One police brigade has at least 2,500 officers and men, he said.

Mbemba announced that several battalions of the integrated police would be deployed to Djugu to quell attacks against civilians. The integrated police would also support a MONUC brigade already deployed to the area, but has difficulty in preventing the militias from ransacking villages.

"What complicates matters is the nomadic behaviour of certain armed groups who chase away the villagers and then loot and burn their houses," Col Dominique Demange, of MONUC, said.

Elkou said the MONUC contingent ? comprised of Nepalese soldiers - encircled the camp of one of the armed groups, the Forces armees du peuple Congolais, on Tuesday in Ariwara, northeast of the town.

"The militants were convinced to surrender their arms," she said.

The Nepalese intervened in a standoff between the militants and the local population. Civilians had broken into a police arms depot after the militias killed two of their people.


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