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Congo Begins Demobilization of Former Rebel Militia - 2003-11-24


The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the United Nations have completed the first demobilization of Congolese ex-rebels since the launching of the national military integration process.

More than 1,600 Mai Mai tribal fighters surrendered to U.N. officials in the town of Kindu in eastern Congo, during the weekend. They were split into two groups, those wanting to join the national army, and those wanting the chance to reintegrate into civilian life.

About 850 combatants were demobilized, including more than 400 children, and 750 prepared to register for the new army.

Other demobilizations are expected in the coming weeks, as thousands more Mai Mai militia marauding the densely forested and jungle-like province of Maniema prepare to lay down their weapons or swear allegiance to a new Congolese military high command. The 1,600 counted in Kindu are the first to go through this process since the national military integration began in October, following the formal end of war in July.

The Mai Mai, who are armed with rifles, bows, arrows and spears, and who often believe in their supernatural abilities to turn bullets into water, were backed by the former government during the war. They clashed against the Congolese rebels backed by Rwanda, and allied themselves with Rwandan Hutu rebels in Congo's east.

The demobilization process in Kindu is likely to be used as a model for further such procedures throughout several of Congo's war ravaged regions. The United Nations is assisting in the demobilization and the Congolese government is focusing on recruitment, registration, and basic training.

Foreign troops based in Congo are also beginning their demobilization.

On November 15, Major General Paul Rwarakabije, the top leader of Rwandan Hutu rebels in eastern Congo, surrendered to Rwandan authorities. Thousands of his troops are expected to pull out of eastern Congo. Meanwhile, the Congolese government is looking into the demobilization of foreign troops in the west of the country.

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