A thousand militia fighters are expected to emerge from the bush and lay down their weapons today in the Congolese town of Beni, brought in by local peacebuilder Henri Ladyi. It’s the start of a campaign to disarm 10,300 fighters, including child soldiers as young as eight years old, who have been living in the forests of eastern Congo and terrorising local villagers.
Henri Ladyi has spent months enticing these hardened fighters out of the bush. His teams of local volunteers have walked deep into the forest to reach and persuade fighters who have often known no other life since civil war began in the DR Congo 15 years ago. He has offered them safe passage through government-held areas, organised transport for them, and persuaded previously demobilised militia commanders to attend in Beni as a reassurance.
Now he is aiming to disarm thousands of the Pareco Mai-Mai militia and, crucially, help them to settle back into normal life so that they do not return to bush warfare.
This may be the last chance the militiamen get to lay down their weapons peacefully and return to civilian life, because the Congolese government has announced an end to its amnesty for militias. The government has sent a special delegation to meet them today, to issue them with ID papers and absorb many of them into the civilian police force.
Henri’s campaign continues next weekend in Butembo, and then 13 other villages in the war-torn region of North Kivu. This is the worst affected area of DRC. His programme is run by local organisation Centre Resolution Conflits, funded by Peace Direct.