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Ituri's Displaced Return Home as DRC Army Vows to Take Control

Thousands of civilians displaced by fighting between militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) troubled Ituri district have begun heading home to try to rebuild their lives. After leaving Ituri's population in the hands of marauding militias for years, Congo's army is returning to the remote northeast and vows to regain control of the entire district by the end of the year.

In a lawless country that has been torn apart by a decade of conflict, the Democratic Republic of Congo's northeastern corner of Ituri has stood out as one of the most violent.

The mineral-rich district grabbed the world's headlines in 2003 when ethnic militias fought each other and killed thousands of civilians in front of international media as a weak U.N. peacekeeping force did little to intervene.

Even once reinforced and boasting nearly 5,000 peacekeepers in Ituri, the United Nations has struggled to put an end to the fighting, which has degenerated into a scrap over the rich gold mines and the control of taxation.

But a relative calm is returning as Congo's fragile army is slowly deploying across the district.

Tens of thousands of the 100,000 civilians that were chased from their homes by clashes earlier this year have begun to return to their fields or homes on the shores of Lake Albert, where they earn a living as fishermen.

Aid workers say the army's presence has made a difference, giving civilians a sense of protection. But the end of free rations in the camps for the displaced has also forced others, who were more reluctant, to leave, they say.

Meanwhile, General Bob Ngoie, the officer in charge of army operations in Ituri, has vowed to put an end to militia activities and have full control of the district, by the end of the year.

A conflict within Congo's wider war, clashes between ethnic groups in Ituri and fighting between militias vying for control of mining and taxation have killed more than 60,000 civilians since 1999.