After two weeks of killings that left nearly 150 dead in Ituri province, according to figures from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo have launched another disarmament programme, hoping to finally do it right.
The new programme launched on Tuesday will be overseen by Lt-Gen Johnny Luboya of the Armed Forces of the Congo (FARDC).
On the first day, 120 militiamen from the armed group Coopérative pour le Développement du Congo (Codeco) and the Front pour la Résistance Patriotique et Intégrationniste du Congo (FRPIC) surrendered and laid down their arms, officials reported.
Under siege for two years
These are the same Codecos that were suspected of killing civilians 10 days earlier in the same area that has been under siege for two years.
Provincial officials say that 20,000 militiamen are expected to participate in the disarmament, demobilisation, community reintegration and social reintegration process. This has been tried in the past under a UN deal but mistakes led to re-formation of the very rebel groups that had initially agreed to hand in weapons and reform.
Col Egide Bosele, Deputy Coordinator in charge of technical and operational issues said, “We hope that from this gesture, those who are still hesitant and reluctant will understand that it is time to return to peace and join the others.
“We therefore have the infrastructure to welcome them.”
The Congolese authorities are hoping for the surrender of an armed group that has become deadly, killing civilians or chopping off limbs with machetes.
In his latest quarterly report at the end of March, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres put the number of civilians killed since the beginning of December 2022 in this gold-rich province, which is plagued by violence from several armed groups, at 485.
The disarmament programme is presented as the ultimate solution for the armed groups to return to a secure situation.
Lt-Gen Luboya appealed to the collective conscience of Iturians to forgive sincerely, to live together before inviting some militiamen to follow this programme.
“Give peace to the children. Give a future to these children who cannot kill themselves if they know that they have parents who can ask them to stop.
“There is a time when you have to say enough is enough, stop. Come here to show that you love peace. We will do it with the means we have,” he said at the launch.
Finance and logistics
The Congolese authorities intend to provide the financial and logistical means for the successful disarmament and reintegration of combatants into civilian life. The same plan for peace is proposed to the M23 in North Kivu for the return of peace.
In 2021, the disarmament process ended in failure due to a lack of financial and logistical resources and supervision. The armed groups that had chosen to lay down their arms had been left to fend for themselves, struggling with a lack of financial resources and precariousness.
In Ituri province, violence has resurfaced since 2017, after nearly 10 years of relative peace. The Lendu and Hema communities had resumed violence, with local armed groups like Codeco committing massacres. Another group called Zaire is fighting with Codeco to defend the Hema ethnic group, while Codeco defends the Lendu ethnic group. The various armed groups in Ituri, including the FRPIC, are also fighting for control of the gold deposits.
The perennial insecurity has pushed 1.6 million people to flee their homes. The DRC as a whole has 5.6 million internally displaced persons as a result of increased insecurity. This number of displaced people requires a huge amount of humanitarian aid.
In the two years of the state of siege, where civilian leaders have been replaced by army leaders, mass killings do not seem to stop. The search for peace is also made difficult by the presence on Congolese soil of other foreign armed groups, such as the Ugandan ADF rebels, who have been hunted by the Congolese army and the Ugandan army since November 30, 2021.