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Two militia leaders appointed army colonels

KINSHASA, 11 Oct 2006 (IRIN) - Two militia commanders have been appointed colonels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) army in a bid by the government to pacify the troubled northeastern district of Ituri, Defence Minister Adolphe Onusumba said.

"The objective of these nominations is the pursuit of peace," he said on Tuesday.

Peter Karim had been leader of the Front des nationalistes et intégrationnistes (FPRI) and Martin Ngudjolo head of the Mouvement des révolutionnaires Congolais. They each commanded about 3,000 fighters.

Onusumba said eight other fighters from these groups had also been commissioned into the regular army.

Their appointment was authorised in a ministerial decree signed on 2 October. The public announcement on Tuesday of the appointments came after 26 FPRI fighters were killed when they attacked government troops on Sunday. It is unclear if, after these appointments, the two militias will disband and enter a national programme of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration into civilian life.

Onusumba said the appointments honoured a written undertaking by the government for the release of seven Nepalese United Nations peacekeeping troops at the end of May, held by these militia for five weeks.

Despite the intent to shore up the peace process through these appointments, a Bunia-based human-rights body, Justice Plus, criticised the measure as a "Reward for war" to the militias.

"People who kill and massacre Congolese should not be rewarded and paid salaries," Joel Bisubu, deputy director of Justice Plus, said. "The perpetrators of crimes must stand trial in a competent court, otherwise tomorrow other criminals would emerge and ask to be made colonels while taking hostages and killing."

However, Onusumba said these appointments would not impede the legal pursuit of human-rights violators.

A leading Ituri militia leader, Thomas Lubanga, is on trial at the International Criminal Court's headquarters in The Hague, for the recruitment of child solders and other alleged crimes.

"We will do everything in our power to ease the work of the International Criminal Court, which has already started to hold war-crimes trials," Onusumba said.

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