Congo: The Trouble With Teenagers

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: Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)

April 11, 2007: Its estimated that 500,000 "illegal weapons" are circulating in the Congo. Most of these are AK-47s, and other Russian designed (and often Chinese manufactured) rifles and pistols. The end of the Cold War threw millions of surplus weapons on the arms market. The old Communist governments of Europe followed the lead of the Soviet Union, and never threw away old weapons. They were locked up in armories, on the off chance that someone would invade, and it would be necessary to "arm the people." When the Communist governments of Europe collapsed in the late 1980s, the treasuries were found to be empty, but the armories were full. As much as possible, unneeded weapons were sold off. Unscrupulous arms dealers bought up most of them, and sold them to warlords in Africa, mostly Africa. Congo was one of the best markets, with all those valuable natural resources to trade for the weapons. For thousands of years, the hundreds of tribes in the Congo had fought each other with spears, knives and bows. Casualties were relatively low. But passing out AK-47s made every man, or boy, a killing machine. The traditional weapons required some muscle, and years of practice, to master. It took minutes to turn a ten year old kid into an AK-47 gunman. It's teenagers with automatic weapons that are still the biggest public health, and public order, problem in the country.

April 7, 2007: The commander of FNI militia, Peter Karim, has surrendered in a negotiated deal. Karim has been given the rank of colonel in the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC, ie, Congolese Army). Karim is lucky. The FNI (Front of Nationalists and Integrationists) were involved in the kidnapping of eight Nepalese peacekeepers in May 2006. One Nepalese soldier died in the incident. The FNI also took ten Congolese troops hostage in December 2006. The Congolese troops have since been released. The UN report said that 170 FNI militiamen surrendered in late February. Another 170 surrendered in March. Karim brought several of his lieutenants with him when he surrendered. The UN estimates that another 350 armed FNI militiamen still remain active in the Congo's Ituri province. Several of the former militiamen were already in Congolese retraining and integration centers. The Congolese refer to these as "brassage centers."

April 6, 2007: Trouble continues between the government and opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba. Congolese police searched the Kinshasha home of a key Bemba supporter Jose Makila, governor of Equateur province, and confiscated "state property." During this operation, the police stole money and took three vehicles. If it looks like harassment, it probably is.

 

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