The last four members of a delegation from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), held hostage by an armed group with which they were negotiating in Ituri for almost two months, have been released, according to sources close to the Congolese army with EFE.
Kinshasa, DRC | The mission coordinator, Thomas Lubanga (a former war criminal sentenced by the International Criminal Court to 14 years in prison for recruiting child soldiers), his number two and also “warlord”, Floribert Ndjabu , as well as two Congolese army colonels held hostage since mid-February, were freed, according to Jean Baptiste Openji, coordinator of the civil society organization, “Allez-y les FARDC”, which supports Congolese military operations in Ituri province, northeast of the country, in statements to the Spanish news agency.
“They have been released and are currently with army personnel in Bunia. They are apparently fine, but I think they will undergo medical examinations,” Openji said. Three other members of the same mission had already been released on 5 April and a first hostage had released on March 21.
The three hostages released earlier this month were another former warlord, Germain Katanga, the president of the Union of Cultural Associations for the Development of Ituri (Unadi), Janvier Ayendu Bin Ekwale, and the group’s driver. .
The kidnapping took place on 16 February in the territory of Djugu, in Ituri, when Codeco and members of a mission constituted by the President of the DRC, Félix Tshisekedi, were negotiating a ceasefire and the demobilization of the rebels. , militia members made known several conditions for the release of the detainees, namely the release of Codeco prisoners and members of the Lendu community, “arbitrarily detained”, the cessation of military operations and the lifting of the state of siege in the region.
According to local media, the kidnapping was apparently motivated in retaliation for an attack by the Congolese army in an area close to where negotiations were taking place.
Codeco is a little-known rebel group, formed in 2018 with the aim of fighting abuses by the Congolese army, responsible for numerous massacres of civilians, which has multiplied its attacks over the last year in Ituri.
Since mid-November, alleged members of this armed group have attacked several concentrations of displaced people in Ituri, killing dozens of people. The UN has repeatedly condemned these attacks.
According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Codeco killed more than 400 people in 2021, making the armed group the second deadliest militia in the region today.
Since 1998, the east of the DRC has been the scene of conflicts fueled by rebel militias and attacks by Congolese army soldiers, despite the presence of the United Nations peacekeeping mission (MONUSCO), which has more than 14,000 soldiers deployed in the country.
According to the Kivu Security Barometer (KST), a non-governmental organization, the region is the battleground for at least 122 rebel groups.
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