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Last Updated: Monday, 2 June, 2003, 21:26 GMT 22:26 UK
DR Congo militia 'will not disarm'
The BBC's Ishbel Matheson
Ishbel Matheson
BBC correspondent in Bunia, Democratic Republic of Congo

Hema Union of Congolese Patriots soldiers in Bunia, DR Congo
The head of the Hema militia says his soldiers are well-disciplined

The head of the militia controlling the town of Bunia in the Democratic Republic of Congo has warned he will not allow his troops to be disarmed when a French-led intervention force arrives.

Thomas Lubanga of the Hema Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) says he is willing to withdraw his forces from Bunia but there can be no question of giving up weapons.

Bitter ethnic clashes have enveloped Bunia since 9,000 Ugandan troops withdrew last month as part of a peace deal in the DR Congo.

The UN has approved the deployment of a strengthened peacekeeping mission with the power to intervene to protect civilians.

But many inhabitants fear that without widespread disarmament of the militias, there will be no solution to the ethnic killing between the Hema and Lendu groups.

Gun-toting children

Mr Lubanga says he is happy to cooperate with the French led force.

After all, he says, his troops control security in the town so the foreign troops need them.

But he flatly denies his men will be disarmed, describing his soldiers as disciplined.

The residents of Bunia may see that differently.

Pick-up trucks full of gun-toting children career around town, despite Mr Lubanga's insistence there are no child soldiers in his army.

Many Congolese believe the top priority of the international force has to be disarming the militia, not just in Bunia, as specified in the UN mandate, but in all of the Ituri region of which it is the capital.

It is not clear whether the French-led mission will take on this difficult and dangerous job.

But as one local priest made plain, if they do not then this peacekeeping force, like the ones before it, will fail.

It is the ready availability of weapons that has fuelled this ethnic conflict.

The presence of foreign troops may deter killing in Bunia, but elsewhere in the surrounding countryside the massacres are likely to continue.

Ishbel Matheson reports from Bunia, DR Congo
"There has been an orgy of killing and looting"


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