Democratic Republic of Congo’s government has dispatched former warlords, including two who were tried for war crimes in The Hague, to try to convince militiamen in their home region to surrender, the governor of Ituri province said on Monday.
Ethnic violence in Ituri, where a conflict between Lendu farmers and Hema herders between 1999 and 2007 resulted in an estimated 50 000 deaths, broke out again in 2017. Hundreds have been killed and hundreds of thousands forced to flee.
Now, Congo’s government is turning to some of the main players from the previous conflict to try to resolve the current one, dispatching a delegation that arrived in Ituri last week.
Governor Jean Bamanisa said one of the members of the delegation is Germain Katanga. The International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted Katanga in 2014 on one count of crimes against humanity and four of war crimes for leading a Lendu militia in a 2003 attack on a village that killed about 200 civilians.
He was released earlier this year after serving over a decade in prison in The Hague and in Congo.
Another delegation member is Mathieu Ngudjolo, who was acquitted by the ICC in 2012 of charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the same attack.
The delegation will begin travelling around the province later this week to meet members of the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo, whose fighters are mostly drawn from the Lendu community, Bamanisa told Reuters.
“It could take more than 45 days to travel everywhere,” he said. “It is a mystical-religious community group, and not structured.”
Late last year Congo’s army launched a large-scale operation against militias in the east of the country, but that sparked a backlash in which armed groups killed several hundred people.