DR Congo armed group to lay down arms

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An armed group in north-east Congo known for using fetishes to protect fighters will lay down arms and end attacks against civilians and the army, weeks after its leader was killed and senior figures arrested.

The new leader of the Co-operative for the Development of the Congo (CODECO), Ngabu Ngawi Olivier, called on the army to enact a ceasefire to allow talks with government, a potential breakthrough for President Felix Tshisekedi who promised to end decades of unrest.

Olivier did not give a date for CODECO to stop violence.

Recent intense fighting in Djugu Territory in northern Ituri province forced thousands from their homes, complicating response to the coronavirus pandemic and an Ebola epidemic that killed more than 2 200 people.

“We are a peaceful sect and war does not benefit us,” Olivier told Reuters by telephone.

“We took up arms to protect ourselves against attacks by the army and religious communities on our followers. Now I think it is no longer important to continue killing civilians or attacking the army.”

Last week the army said an operation to uproot CODECO, drawn from the Lendu ethnic group, was gaining ground following the killing of its leader Justin Ngondjolu in March.

Jean-Bosco Lalo, civil society co-ordinator for Ituri, said the ceasefire was unexpected but an opportunity to bring peace to the area.

“It is a first since massacres began and we pray it will be a success,” Lalo said. “It remains to be seen whether he will be understood by all militiamen.”

Founded in 1978 as an agricultural co-operative, researchers say CODECO produced mystical potions fighters believe protected them during conflicts.

Little is known about the secretive group which took up arms in recent years and which local rights groups accuse of killing hundreds of civilians.