Rival ethnic militias in the Ituri District of northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) agreed on Wednesday to disarm, withdraw to rear bases and to participate in joint verification exercises, UN spokesman Hamadoun Toure told IRIN on Thursday.
He said that representatives from five regional militias - the Union des patriotes congolais (UPC), a primarily Hema militia; the Forces armees du peuple congolais; the Front des nationalistes et des integrationnistes; the Forces populaires pour la democratie au Congo; and the Parti pour l'unite et la sauvegarde de l'integrite du Congo - took part in the talks, organised by the UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, in the principal town of Ituri, Bunia.
"The militias must apply the ceasefire agreement they signed in Dar es Salaam by disarming, demobilising and cantoning their troops," Toure said.
He was referring to an accord reached on 16 May in the economic capital of Tanzania. [see earlier IRIN story, "Ituri factions recommit themselves to peace"]
"What's even better is that the various militias agreed to organise joint verifications of the ceasefire," he added.
However, militia leaders also asked that the UN participate to provide a measure of security.
"We were the first to withdraw and demobilise and that is what we expect from the other armed groups," John Tinanzabo, secretary-general of the UPC, which controls Bunia, said. "But we always asked that demobilisation and cantonment be accompanied by training programmes for our combatants with a view to their future."
Economically-driven ethnic strife in natural resource-rich Ituri District between Hema and Lendu militias caused between 200,000 and 350,000 people to flee when fighting worsened in May, humanitarian sources said. Due to prevailing insecurity, however, MONUC has been unable to deploy military observers outside Bunia, while the EU-led peace enforcement mission sent to reinforce MONUC is not mandated to act outside of the town.
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