KINSHASA, 14 Mar 2005 (IRIN) - The head of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), William Swing, gave a two-week ultimatum on Sunday to militiamen in the embattled northeastern district of Ituri to disarm and be integrated into the country's national army.
"I have come to give a clear message - it's finished - now it is time for peace and they [the militiamen] have to understand," Swing told reporters during a visit to Bunia, the main town in Ituri.
Swing, who is also the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to the DRC, said his ultimatum was in line with a programme of disarmament, demobilisation and community reinsertion of the armed groups under the aegis of the UN, which is due to end in April.
Many militiamen have already undergone the process of community reinsertion and demobilisation since the second half of 2004.
According to the National Commission for Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reinsertion, some 3,783 militiamen have already gone through the disarmament and community reinsertion process, intended for the combatants of the various militia groups in the district, estimated to be 15,000, including 6,000 children.
The deputy coordinator of the demobilisation commission, Innoncente Bakanseka, said 3,708 of these combatants had been demobilised and 75 integrated in the army. These included 1,822 boys and 342 girls, she added.
The demobilisation, disarmament and demobilisation programme, supported by the World Bank, the UN Mission in the DRC known as MONUC, the UN Development Programme and other donors, is ongoing despite reluctance by a large number of militiamen to join the programme.
According to MONUC, the latest operation carried out by the UN troops had led to nearly 500 militiamen presenting themselves in the six demobilisation and disarmament transit centres set up across Ituri.
Swing said militiamen who would not have surrendered by 31 March would be demobilised and disarmed by force because "it will be up to the Congolese government and to the FARDC [national Congolese army] to take over."
MONUC has also conducted several operations in the district aimed at stabilising the region. On Friday, 600 UN troops conducted a "search and cordon" operation in Penyi, 30 km east of Bunia.
MONUC's director of information, Kemal Saiki, said four contingents of the UN peacekeepers, from Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and South Africa, carried out the operation.
"The combined operation involved helicopters, as well as armoured vehicles taking the troops to the zone of operation," he said.
He added: "No contact with armed elements was made - neither did the troops recover any material or seize any document - but the operation enabled us to make a demonstration of our capacity to mobilise quickly and to ensure control of the zone."
MONUC also recently conducted another operation in Loga, northeast of Bunia, during which 60 militiamen of the Front nationale de intregationiste (FNI) were killed. This operation followed the killing of nine UN peacekeepers in the area on 25 February at the village of Kafe by suspected FNI militiamen.