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Kinshasa team in Brazzaville to identify former soldiers

BRAZZAVILLE, 31 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - A government team from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) arrived on Saturday in Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo, to begin the identification and registration of former Congolese soldiers who served under president Mobutu Sese Seko and now want to return home.

The ex-Forces Armées Zaïroises (Ex-FAZ) soldiers fled the DRC in 1997 when the late Laurent Kabila toppled Mobutu. They had served in the Congolese army between 1965 and 1997.

"Our mission could have arrived earlier if the government would have delivered an important document in time," a member of the delegation, who requested anonymity, told IRIN in Brazzaville.

Members of the delegation are drawn from the Ministry of Defence, the Commission for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration, known as CONADER, as well as the Integrated Military Structure.

The delegation is in charge of the repatriation of the ex-FAZ and of formulating ways to reintegrate them into the army or civilian life.

The former soldiers have been trying to return home since 18 October when a group tried to cross the River Congo - that runs between Kinshasa and Brazzaville - but was denied entry into Kinshasa. Authorities in both cities said they were acting according to international law on repatriation and, consequently, forced the formers soldiers to camp in Brazzaville's riverside port of Beach. The men, together with the families, have remained at the port since then.

Moreover, boat traffic between Brazzaville and Kinshasa has remained suspended since 18 October.

However, the suspension of the river traffic has affected Brazzaville, which depends on Kinshasa for most of its food and non-food imports. Consequently, the prices of these items have increased on the markets of Brazzaville.

On Friday, Congolese police units from the Commando of the Specialised Units went to the Beach and ordered the Ex-FAZ to leave but they refused. They even told the police to shoot at them to dislodge them.

"If we leave the Beach, the authorities will not take charge of our situation any longer," a member of the Ex-FAZ said.

The Brazzaville government wants former soldiers to leave so that trade on the River Congo could resume between the two countries.

Human rights NGOs in Kinshasa favour the return of the ex-soldiers, saying this would strengthen national unity.

"The government is very worried by the DRC citizens, who pretend to be Ex-FAZ, in the Beach and whose presence has crippled its economic activity," Alain Akouala Atipault, the minister for communication and spokesman of Brazzaville government, said on Friday. "That is the reason why the government has decided to make those DRC citizens leave the region."

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