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Disarmament Deadline Reached in Congo

In the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) Ituri province, the United Nations says a little more than half of the area's fighters have handed in their weapons, meeting a United Nations deadline. An analyst group on Friday called for more support for the U.N. mission in another area of Congo.

A spokesman for MONUC, the United Nations' peacekeeping mission in Congo, Kemal Saiki, told VOA disarmament centers all over Ituri province were bustling Friday, as former combatants from six rebel groups handed in their weapons.

"A lot of people are coming to the camps to disarm, to be registered, and to be part of the government process. The deadline is today [Friday],” he said. “We're surrounded by literally hundreds of people, most of them young men. They've given up their weapons, and are being processed, registered to integrate in the process of disarmament."

Mr. Saiki said about 8300 of an estimated 15,000 former combatants have already surrendered their weapons.

He issued a strong warning to those ex-combatants who did not bring in their weapons by the end of Friday.

"People who are not willing to integrate into the process are going to be considered as outlaws in legal situation, and they will be treated as such, and they will have to pay the consequences of their refusal to integrate in the process," he added.

The ethnic fighting in Ituri, which began in 1998 and ended in 2003, has killed more than 60,000 people and displaced 600,000 more from their homes.

After the end of the war, the Congolese government set up a National Disarmament and Reinsertion Commission in an attempt to make Ituri more stable. MONUC started working with the government's disarmament program in September 2004.

Near Ituri are two volatile provinces called North and South Kivu, where thousands are dying in a political and humanitarian crisis.

The political analysis organization, International Crisis Group, Friday released a report saying that MONUC's ability to protect people against rebel attacks in the Kivus is limited by its size and mandate.

Senior analyst Jim Terrie says more support for MONUC is needed.

"The international community, the Security Council in particular, needs to support the U.N. mission in the Congo to expect that it actually operates to the limit of its mandate to protect civilians and protect the peace process," said Mr. Terrie.

The report says recent fighting in North Kivu has killed thousands of people and displaced about 100,000 more.