Militiamen at a disarmament site in Bunia, Ituri District
BUNIA, 14 Jul 2006 (IRIN) - The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has responded positively to a request by a militia leader in the northeastern district of Ituri to be integrated into the national army.
Peter Karim Udaga is leader of the Front des nationalistes et intégrationnistes (FNI), which was responsible for the recent abduction of seven United Nations peacekeepers, who have since been released.
Karim's FNI group took the seven hostage on 28 May as they conducted an operation code-named ?Ituri Element III' to drive out the militias from the area.
"They [Karim's group] wrote a letter to the government and received a response from Kinshasa about their integration," Mbitso Ngedza, the assistant police chief in Ituri, said on local radio on Thursday.
Ngedza was part of a delegation that negotiated and obtained the release of the seven Nepalese troops of the UN Mission in the DRC, MONUC.
According to Ngedza, the director of the cabinet and special adviser on security to the head of state, Pierre Lumbi, responded to Karim's letter by saying the government gave its assent for the integration of Karim's troops into the army "without going through the transit camps".
Commenting on Karim's request, MONUC's spokesperson in Ituri, Carmine Camerini, said: "It is a big step towards pacification in Ituri. With Karim there will be others who will also surrender their guns.
"For MONUC, if Karim surrenders his weapons there will be no obstacles to peace in Ituri," Camerini added.
Camerini said MONUC facilitates dialogue between Congolese authorities so that the process of pacification takes place before the general elections, due on 30 July.
According to Ngedza, the director of the cabinet also informed Karim that he would still benefit from an ongoing amnesty for the voluntary disarmament of militias in the district. The army and MONUC had extended this deadline from 30 June to 15 July. At least 3,000 militiamen have been disarmed, with nearly 1,000 having been reintegrated into society.
With one day to the expiry of the disarmament deadline, time is running out for Karim to negotiate, disarm and be integrated into the army. He is set to meet government officials in Bunia, the main town in Ituri, to work out the process. However, he wants the meeting to take place in his Nioka stronghold, approximately 110km northeast of Bunia.
Karim is in Nioka, with about 1,000 militiamen in his charge, according to the army. However, Karim says he is leading at least 6,000. "We are waiting for a government delegation that will come to talk to him before the elections," Ngedza said.
"If Karim lays down his guns and is integrated into the army there will be 100 percent peace in Ituri because he is the leading the war here," said François Nguz, an official of the National Disarmament Commission in Ituri.
"The disarmament was open for him among others ... the elections will take place in peace," Nguz added.