Disarmament centres reopened two weeks ago after being closed for a year, giving militia groups a second chance to give up their guns a month before the Democratic Republic of Congo is due to hold presidential and parliamentary elections.
Much of the country remains violent and Ituri – a remote northeastern district where fighting has killed 60,000 since 1999 and militia fighters are still holding five UN Nepali peacekeepers hostage – is no exception.
Colonel Francois-Xavier Duku, the head of Congo’s national disarmament commission for Ituri, said: “More than 1,800 people have disarmed – the figure is getting near 2,000.”
Last year over 15,000 militiamen signed up to UN-sponsored disarmament programmes before the centres closed when the deadline expired.
But despite the presence of thousands of UN peacekeepers and their support of the national army, the violence has continued, as the militia re-recruited former fighters who were not given fresh starts as civilians.
However Duku said that with elections just weeks away and the disarmament centres open again, the “time was right” for the fighters to lay down their weapons.
“People realised that there was no more conflict between ethnic groups so there was no reason to keep hidden weapons,” he said.
The Ituri conflict, which used to pit various ethnic-based militias against one another but is now centred around the militias’ joint rejection of state or UN authority, has continued despite the official end to Congo’s war in 2003.
The July 30 elections are meant to draw a line under this conflict, which six neighbouring countries got involved in and has killed four million people, mostly from hunger and disease.