GOMA, Congo — U.N. peacekeepers began a new effort to disarm fighters in volatile eastern Congo on Thursday, setting up a zone where only the country's security forces can now carry firearms.
The move is aimed at stabilizing the eastern city of Goma and areas around it – a zone that is home to more than 1 million people who have faced waves of rebellion and attacks from armed groups in recent years.
Earlier this week, the U.N. peacekeeping mission known as MONUSCO issued an ultimatum before beginning the disarming effort.
"With the expiration of the 48-hour deadline, MONUSCO and Congolese armed forces will take up patrols to make sure that weapons are not being held by any unauthorized people," MONUSCO spokesman Carlos Araujo told U.N.-run Radio Okapi on Thursday.
U.N. officials have emphasized that the weapons ban will not only apply to the M23 rebel group, which has posed the greatest threat in the region. The group briefly seized control of Goma last November. Peace talks with the government have repeatedly stalled.
In New York, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said the security zone "is not an offensive operation and is not targeted at any one armed group." He emphasized that the disarmament effort will protect civilians.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.