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Opposition militias join army in Equateur province

Photo: Independent Electoral Commission (CEI)
Jean Pierre Bemba
KINSHASA, 29 March 2007 (IRIN) - Militias loyal to opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba have been integrated into the national army in Equateur province, in the northern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), United Nations officials said.

Two hundred soldiers were signed up on Tuesday in Gbadolite, a spokesperson for the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), Lt Col Didier Rancher, said on Wednesday. Another 140 are expected to lay down their weapons soon.

A disused Coca-Cola factory used by Bemba's guards as a hiding-place for arms had also been secured, he added. At least 677 assorted weapons, several cases of ammunition and a number of vehicles were found in the factory.

However, despite this integration, analysts fear there could be a violent reaction by Bemba's men in Equateur, his stronghold. Fighting erupted between Bemba's guards and government forces in the capital, Kinshasa, from 22 to 25 March, when the army sought to disarm Bemba's militia.

The European Union and hospital sources put the death toll at between 200 and 500 people, but there has been no official word on the number of people killed.

"We are calling on all the parties to remain calm, in particular in Equateur [province], which we are commending for maintaining peace up to now," Kemal Saiki, MONUC spokesperson, said.

Meanwhile, at least 34 people have sought refuge at the MONUC compound in Kinshasa after their homes were destroyed during the fighting. MONUC is also taking care of the wives and children of some of those who surrendered, Rancher said.

"Discussions are going on between MONUC and army authorities and we hope that they will come up with a solution," Rancher said.

According to the Minister of Defence, Chikez Diemu, Bemba's guard comprises at least 1,200 men.

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