With the number of former combatants taking part in disarmament programmes almost doubling in the past few weeks, nearly 12,000 ex-fighters have disarmed and the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC) first national brigade incorporating former militiamen has been deployed, an official from the United Nations peacekeeping department said today.
The more than 11,500 combatants who entered the disarmament and re-integration programme included 3,600 children, François Dureau, chief of the Situation Centre in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) told journalists at UN Headquarters in New York.
In a major achievement of the past two months, the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) had been able to go into previously inaccessible areas and build roads and distribute medicines to the population, he said. It had also supported Government units operating in key areas of Ituri and the Kivus, he added.
In the first integration phase, ex-militia members who had been trained and equipped by South Africa and Belgium were now supporting MONUC activities, Mr. Dureau said.
On the political side, DPKO official Margaret Carey said the transitional constitution dictated that elections should have been held two years after the inauguration of the Transitional Government, which would have been by June 2005. But the new constitution and new electoral law had not yet been approved and the technical preparations had been delayed.
She reminded the journalists that the DRC had 24 million people scattered over a country the size of Western Europe, but "without roads." Voter education was proceeding, nonetheless, and voter registration would begin in June, she added.
Meanwhile, it was her understanding that the Transitional Government would soon make public its position on the electoral time-table and the possible extension of the transitional process.
The biggest threats to security were the uncontrolled armed groups in Ituri and the Kivus, but about 7,000 foreign fighters and some 4,000 of their family members had voluntarily returned home, Ms. Carey said.
Once an effective reintegration programme was put in place, with wages and means of sustenance available to the ex-combatants, more people would enter the disarmament and reintegration programme, she said.