The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, known as MONUC, had given militiamen active in the embattled northeastern district of Ituri up to Friday (1 April) to disarm voluntarily, or they would be disarmed by force. On the eve of this deadline, Gen Jean-François Collot D'Escury, the head of MONUC in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, spoke to IRIN on the issue, as well as the progress made in the demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) project currently underway in the district. We bring you excerpts of that interview:
QUESTION: How far have we reached in the DDR process?
ANSWER: [As of] today, 6,227 combatants, mostly those from western Ituri, are moving towards DDR transit centres. We are monitoring them and escorting them at some stages. We will not disarm them by force. On the other hand, there are a certain number of perfectly identified groups which are much worse and have, increasingly, been making hostile statements about us and the population. Legal authorities in Ituri will deal with this lot and, if need be, we will intervene to execute the court's orders.
Somehow, we are victims of our own success, because thousands of combatants have turned up at the transit centres to be disarmed, but each centre can only receive 100 people per day. Therefore, it is clear that we will go beyond 1 April. There is demand at the transit centres, which is why we are planning to leave the door half open for those who wish to disarm.
However, there are others who do not want to take part in the process. They do not deserve our time. We know who they are and where they are. We will act vigorously against these people, in conformity with the law and in collaboration with the country's legal authorities.
Q: What will happen to the rest of the combatants in the district after the expiry date since, so far, only 6,227 of the 15,000 combatants have responded to the voluntary disarmament.
A: Those who have been turning up at the centres in the last few months are not part of the 6,227. The number we gave you is that of the actual process. I do not have the number of the entire disarmament action in Ituri as well as that of the Kivu - Those who want to be disarmed are those we are concerned with, and that is what I call a half open door. As for those who have been identified and who do not abide by the law by disarming, we will deal with them accordingly. If they remain outside the process they will be considered gangsters and will be subject to legal action.
Q: You have said that MONUC troops will be reinforced with a special unit of Guatemalan troops with modern equipment that would allow for night operations. Is this reinforcement in anticipation of resistance from the militiamen? If so, how do you intend to proceed?
A: I do not wish to talk about this for operational reasons. Therefore, you will see it in the coming days and weeks. For the moment, there are only minor events in Ituri and this is why we have not reinforced Ituri, but the Special Forces company in MONUC's eastern division will be deployed to Kisangani and will be utilised as needed.
Q: You say that those who are refusing to be disarmed are known and so are their locations. Which are these groups?
A: Without doubt we can name the FNI [the Front des nationalistes integrationnistes - predominantly Lendu] militia. There are other troublesome elements, who we know of because of the splits within all the movements in Ituri.
Q: However, some FNI combatants have gathered close to Bunia to be disarmed and have been attacked by an unidentified self-defence group that has killed and wounded some of them using light weapons. What happened?
A: I confirm. I deplore this attitude of people whose real motives we have not been able to discern. Within FNI, we know that there are people who want to disarm but there are also leaders who threatened all those who want to be disarmed, with death. Therefore, these will soon be our targets.
Q: Today, how many militiamen still remain completely out of the disarmament process?
A: I think that it is just groups of a few hundred people in all in the whole of Ituri District.
Q: On the estimates of 15,000 combatants in Ituri, there are 6,000 children. How many of these have so far disarmed?
A: I do not have the figures at hand, but a certain number of children have been demobilised and taken care of by UNICEF [UN Children's Fund] and other specialised [agencies].
Q: Is the low capacity in transit centres for these demobilized ex-combatants due to a logistic problem?
A: No, there are no logistic problems in the transit centres. It is the responsibility of CONADER [Commission Nationale de Demobilisation et de Reinsertion]. But, I can tell you that 20 tons of foodstuffs have already been set up in Aru [160 km north of Bunia]. This makes it possible to comfortably see the process through without problems.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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