KIGALI, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO —
Several armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have said they are ready to lay down their weapons, following the army's defeat of M23 rebels. Since then, there has been a series of letters and declarations by other militias expressing their willingness to be demobilized.
It has been two weeks since the M23 rebels fled from their last holdouts in Congo after coming under intense bombardments from the U.N.-backed Congolese army.
Other armed groups in North Kivu province seem anxious to avoid the same fate.
Several of them are ready to give up their activities and demobilize, according to documents VOA has seen that apparently were signed by their leaders.
One of these documents appears to have been signed by leaders of the Mai Mai Kifuafua and Raia Mutomboki groups in Walikale territory - two groups that recently were fighting each other. Another comes apparently from the so-called Cheka group, which has been repeatedly condemned for human rights violations, and named as a priority target by the U.N.
Researcher Fidel Bafilemba, who works for the NGO the Enough Project in eastern Congo, told VOA the documents are genuine. He said they are authentic and were given to Enough by local government officials in Walikale, and were then confirmed by a Catholic priest who helped organize a peacemaking dialogue.
The signatories to one of the documents pledge to abandon all armed group activities and to join the army or return to civilian life, without conditions.
The other document from the Cheka does pose conditions, as it asks the government to integrate its fighters in the army and to recognize their self-proclaimed “ranks.”
There are said to be some 30 armed groups in eastern Congo. Bafilemba said most of the others also have pledged to demobilize, with some already partly integrated in the army, while others are disintegrating as their members desert.
He said it really is an avalanche, a tidal wave of armed groups giving up since the Congolese army defeated the M23, which he said was, in a sense, the reason for their existence.
A civil society leader in Walikale, Prince Kihangi Kyawami, also said the armed groups in the territory have pledged to demobilize. A civil society spokesman for North Kivu province, Djento Maundu, said the same was true for the whole province.
Both the Congolese army and the U.N. mission MONUSCO have said their number one target among the armed groups is now the Rwandan rebel group FDLR, whose core members include perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide.
As for the FDLR, said Bafilemba, they have received an ultimatum from the DRC army high command to lay down their arms, and already had written to the DRC president saying they were ready to disarm, but had concerns about their repatriation.
A senior Congolese government delegation, including several generals and the interior minister, was in North Kivu at the weekend. The minister told reporters he was there to discuss the province’s reconstruction, but he did not give further details.
Non-governmental organizations have called on the government to revive a program for demobilizing Congolese combatants and helping them to rejoin civilian life.