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Unrest Reported at Congo Camp for Ex-militiamen

A riot has been reported at a military camp holding more than 800 ex-militiamen in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are demanding to be freed and sent back to their home areas, but the government says the situation is under control.

The ex-militiamen came from various armed groups in the east of the country and have been at the camp at Kotakoli in western DRC since 2013, after surrendering to the army or the U.N. mission.

There was also trouble at the camp last year, in February, and last weekend a violent protest broke out again. The ex-combatants tried to break into an armory and looted the houses of officers in charge of the camp.

U.N. radio describes the riot as an uprising, and reports the ex-militiamen have been refusing to negotiate with a senior army officer sent to the camp. It reports the ex-militiamen have given the government three days to provide them with the means to return to their home areas.

But DRC government spokesman Lambert Mende insists there has been no uprising at the camp. He says they have surrendered and they are not armed. They never posed a threat, he insists, adding that they are under the army’s control.

Human Rights Watch reported last October that more than 100 ex-combatants and their dependents had died at Kotakoli during the year, owing to lack of food and health care.

Shortly after that report, the government announced it would close the camp and transfer the inmates to camps in less remote areas. But that has not yet happened.

U.N. radio reports the U.N. mission, MONUSCO, has asked for the ex-combatants to begin a process of demobilization and reintegration in either the army or civilian life. Under this process the United Nations would take charge of them temporarily, but the report says the government has not given the go-ahead.

Spokesman Mende told VOA the government is ready to send the militiamen for reintegration and is just waiting for MONUSCO’s support. He says this is a project which the government has been discussing with MONUSCO for the past eight months. The government is waiting for MONUSCO’s help so that the project can materialize.

U.N. radio reports riots broke out after rumors spread that a camp officer had stolen $30,000 intended for camp rations. The radio reports the officer was held for questioning for a week.