CAR: 170 MLC fighters return home

BANGUI, 17 February (IRIN) - The first 170 of the 1,500 fighters of the Mouvement de liberation du Congo (MLC) who have been shoring up the Central African Republic (CAR) army since 25 October 2002, went home to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Saturday.
"Others will follow during the coming week," Mongapa Sumi, sent by the MLC chief of staff to supervise the withdrawal, told IRIN.

Thirty of the fighters left M'poko Airport in the capital, Bangui, aboard a Russian-built Antonov jet belonging to the MLC. The remaining 140 crossed the Oubangui river to Zongo, the DRC city across from Bangui.

"We have accomplished our mission brilliantly," Mongapa, an MLC "colonel", said.

MLC troops have been accused of raping and looting civilians in northern suburbs of Bangui, during their stay in the country. However, Mongapa said these accusations were false and that the international media had demonised MLC fighters.

"Our troops are so disciplined that we cannot believe that," he said.

The MLC leader Jean-Pierre Bemba announced early this month that he would begin withdrawing his fighters by 14 February. At the same time, local newspapers kept reporting that more MLC fighters and weapons were being sent to reinforce the CAR army in the northwest and centre of the country, now largely under rebel control.


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