Hundreds of people in Kinshasa have handed over illegal weapons for cash and cloth in a no-questions-asked campaign to reduce crime in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
AK-47 automatic rifles, Uzi sub-machine guns and rocket launchers were among the 3,000 or so weapons collected over the past three weeks by the Ecumenical Programme for Peace, Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation (PAREC), an NGO.
Those in working order were handed over to the police, the rest were destroyed.
"There have been several hold-ups and attempted murders carried out by armed men in Kinshasa recently and several arms caches have been discovered,” said PAREC coordinator, Pastor Daniel Ngoyi Mulunda.
“These are the facts that motivated us to take this action, knowing that there have been too many fire arms in circulation in the capital.”
Ngoyi said the government had promised not to take any legal action against civilians surrendering their guns. So far, he added, no arrests had been made.
Most of those who handed in weapons were women, Ngoyi said. Upon surrender, the women receive $100 and a length of cloth.
However, several Kinshasa residents expressed concern over the origin of the fire arms being collected.
"I suspect those bringing in arms may be from the armed forces, not civilians," Benjamin Yogolelo, a former military officer, told IRIN. "And those thousands of weapons could [have been] stolen from military camps. Some people come back many times to hand in different guns and get more money. This is easy money."
Ngoyi said the police and the media were not allowed to talk to, film or photograph people handing over arms so as to encourage others to do likewise.
Meanwhile, questions are being asked about the highly publicised discovery of four weapons caches in November and the subsequent arrest of former soldiers from Equateur province accused of preparing a coup.
“There is more to this story of arms caches than meets the eye because we don’t have any real proof that they existed. Only people from Equateur were arrested. We think it could be a set-up to carry out a purge in the army,” said Dolly Ibefo, the vice-president of La Voix, a human rights NGO.
Ibefo said the detainees included a woman and her baby, arrested in place of her husband.
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