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South Sudan army leaves RDC border after 10 years

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February 6, 2008 (BUNIA) — Police and other security services from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have begun deploying near the Sudanese border after the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) withdrew troops who had occupied the area for a decade, officials said.

“We raised the Congolese flag over Kengezi Base on Sunday 3 February, regaining our territorial integrity. They [the SPLA] agreed to withdraw unconditionally. We ourselves favoured an amicable solution without trying to create other problems,” Dieudonne Rwabone, commissioner of the northeastern district of Ituri, told IRIN.

In 1998, the SPLA, a former rebel group that is now the official army of Southern Sudan, established a base in Kengezi, which lies at the junction of the DRC, Sudanese and Ugandan borders, about 350km north of Ituri’s capital, Bunia. This was at the start of a civil war in DRC that lasted five years; the SPLA had been persuaded by the DRC rebels to support their fight against the government in Kinshasa, the capital.

“It’s really good news for the Democratic Republic of Congo because these SPLA elements collected taxes and on several occasions prompted civilians to take flight,” said Lewis Mawa, the administrator of Aru Territory, which includes Kengezi Base.

On 24 January, a skirmish between the SPLA and the DRC army led to the displacement of 1,200 Kengezi Base residents.

“Most of their soldiers were based on their side of the border. About 30 were stationed in Kengezi Base. It was the 24 January clash that led the governor of Orientale Province [which includes Ituri] to sign the accord” with the governor of Southern Sudan’s Central Equatoria Province, added Mawa.

Under the deal, DRC soldiers in the town have also withdrawn, leaving the police to protect residents. Sudanese civilians living on the DRC side of the border will not be affected. Authorities from both countries are scheduled to hold regular meetings to discuss any contentious issues that might otherwise result in conflict.

Other villages returned to DRC control under the deal include Likou, Kendrio, Nyayi Base, Agoroba, Arile and Inkengesi Base.

Since the late 1990s, this corner of DRC has been plagued by numerous domestic and foreign armed groups. As well as the SPLA, several Ugandan rebel groups, including the Lord’s Resistance Army, have been active in the region.

(IRIN)

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