UN says will stop feeding some 7,000 ex-fighters in DR Congo

Maman Sambo Sidikou takes over as UN envoy to the DR Congo and head of the 22,000-strong MONUSCO force, amid growing tensions in the country (AFP Photo/Alain Wandimoyi)

Kinshasa (AFP) - The UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo said Wednesday it will stop providing food from September to nearly 7,000 ex-fighters, sparking fresh fears in the chronically troubled country.

The 20,000-strong MONUSCO, which has an annual budget of $1.4 billion (1.2 billion euros), is strapped for cash, its chief Martin Kobler told AFP.

"There are nearly 6,800 ex-fighters that MONUSCO is feeding" at a cost of $2 million a month," the German career diplomat said.

He said the mission "does not have enough money to feed" them.

"We are in talks with the government to stop the food rations on September 15 for the other camps and September 30 for the one in Kisangani" in the northeast to "transfer" the responsibility to Kinshasa, he said.

The ex-fighters include both Congolese and other nationals.

The move sparked immediate fears in the sprawling and mineral-rich but chronically restive nation which has been wracked by fighting and a long dictatorship after independence from Belgium in 1960.

MONUSCO oversees a disarmament, demobilisation, repatriation and reintegration programme for foreign rebels.

Now Kinshasa is due to take responsibility for the camps housing former fighters, both Congolese and foreigners, with food and logistical support from MONUSCO.

Taz Greyling, the head of the disarmament and reintegration programme, said Kinshasa had released $1.5 million to take over charge and urged international aid for the scheme, estimated to cost $85 million.

A senior Congolese military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, accused the UN mission of taking a "unilateral" and "dangerous" decision.

The announcement comes a day after the Rwandan Hutu militia, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), accused Kinshasa of "starving" nearly 200 of its ex-combattants and 600 others housed in Kisangani with the aim of "forcing" them to return to Rwanda.

The latest announcement "confirms the desire of MONUSCO and the DR Congo government to repatriate our former fighters by force to Rwanda, against their will, by starving them to death," La Forge Fils Bazeye, an FDLR spokesman said, speaking from the bush.

The FDLR has been active in Democratic Republic of Congo -- which borders both Rwanda and Burundi -- since crossing over from Rwanda after the 1994 genocide of mainly Tutsi people there.

Opposed to Rwandan President Paul Kagame's Tutsi-dominated government, they are accused of carrying out brutal attacks on civilians in eastern DR Congo and of smuggling gold.

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