(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Recently demobilised militiamen re-arming in volatile Ituri district

[DRC] Militiamen queue at a disarmament site in Bunia, Ituri District.
Richard Pituwa/IRIN

The head of the army in Ituri District of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has said some militias are re-arming and fighting again, despite undertakings given to the government in July to demobilise their combatants and hand over weapons.

"It has been a pretence," Brigadier-General Nsiona Mbuayamba, commander of the army in Ituri, said about Ituri's disarmament and demobilisation process so far.

The militias are re-arming and recruiting again north and east of the district capital Bunia, he said, while other militia south of Bunia are becoming increasingly belligerent.

Several army officers in Ituri gave examples of demobilised combatants being recruited again into militias, although none of the officers was willing to estimate the total number.

Mbuayamba said thousands of former combatants now in Bunia were under pressure to rejoin the militias. Those still wanting to disarm were being threatened and some were being killed, he said. Many of the youth in Bunia are fleeing to villages where the militias cannot reach them, he said. Other former combatants are rejoining their militias and buying weapons from government troops.

Mbuayamba said six soldiers had reported losing their weapons, suggesting they had in fact sold them. "It's dangerous to lose weapons when people out there want to buy them," he said.

At a news conference in Bunia this week, the army's public information section paraded three men who had been arrested. “One is a former combatant who was caught buying a weapon from a soldier for US $35,” Major Eugene Wangu, head of the area's military intelligence, said.

The man, who was forbidden by the army from giving his name, defended himself by saying he was buying weapons for friends who had not yet demobilised. "They want to demobilise but only have bullets and grenades," the man said. "They need to have weapons in order for CONADER to pay them to demobilise."

CONADER is the national agency overseeing the disarmament and reintegration programme.

Militia near Bunia

Mbuayamba said he was particularly concerned about a well-armed group based 12 km southeast of Bunia at the village of Zumbe. It is led by Mathieu Ngujolo, a commander of the Lendu militia, le Front des Nationalistes et Integrationnistes(FNI), which is officially now just a political party.

The FNI joined other Ituri militias in Uganda in June 2005 to form an alliance against the army called the Mouvements Révolutionnaires Congolais (MRC), although the groups still act independently.

"Ngujolo has been recruiting many of his combatants who had disarmed but only surrendered one of their many weapons," Mbuayamba said.

Mbuayamba said Ngujolo, who escaped from prison in Kinshasa in 2005, had taken advantage of a recent truce with the government to cross through army-held territory and establish his base at Zumbe.

North of Bunia

Another FNI militia leader who had agreed to be integrated into the national army in July but is now recruiting combatants is Peter Udaga, alias Karim. He and his 3,000 militiamen are based 120 km north of Bunia at Nioka, and are responsible for the abduction of seven United Nations peacekeepers in May.

“We have information that Peter Karim Udaga continues to conscript women, children and men into his ranks so that he has the 6,000 combatants he needs to be given the rank of general once he is reintegrated into the national army,” said an official in the UN Mission to the DRC {MONUC), who asked not to be named.

Udaga's troops have set up roadblocks between Mahagi and Djugu, seizing commercial vehicles and causing disorder en route, particularly at Linga village market.

"He currently has combatants at Dala [90 km from Bunia], just four kilometres from our positions and they provoke our troops but we are maintaining the truce," Mbuayamba said.
MONUC and the army had been waiting to demobilise 3,000 of Udaga's combatants but he has, so far, only sent 80 child soldiers, according to the local NGO, Protection de l’Enfance.

South of Bunia

Mbuayamba also expressed concern about armed groups from the Fronts des Résistances Patriotiques en Ituri (FRPI) based 50 km southwest of Bunia on the road to Komanda.

The FRPI are mostly fighting each other, Mbuayamba said. Two of the leaders known as Cobra Matata and Yuda (Judas in English), recently clashed in the Singbo gold-mining area 40 km from Bunia, with Yuda's group taking refuge near the village of Kodeza.

Yuda's combatants are killing and abusing civilians in that area. MONUC’s human-rights section received a complaint in August that at least 18 people had been kidnapped and four of them were killed. Mbuayamba confirmed the report.

Another FRPI breakaway group led by a man known as Zakayo is based near the town of Geti 60 km south of Bunia near the Ugandan border. Mbuayamba said Zakayo and his combatants plundered facilities of the NGO Médecins Sans Frontières near Geti last month.

"Fortunately the 6th brigade repelled them and they are now [across the border in Uganda] at the Semliki Plains."
However, locals say Cobra Matata, FRPI's original leader, is an even bigger threat. "We have a recalcitrant war-lord who has no ideals," said Edouard Akobi, a community leader in the area.

Akobi said Matata is so ruthless that many of his combatants are defecting and are now demobilising for integration into the army. Mbuayamba said the army recently found the bodies of 10 of his combatants who had tried to flee.

He also said Matata may soon launch more attacks targeted at civilians with food and medical supplies. “The army will block his movements." Mbuayamba said. "Any unauthorised movement will be regarded as a provocation and a breach of the truce,” he said.


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