KINSHASA (Reuters) - Authorities in Democratic Republic of Congo began to transfer former Rwandan rebels on Wednesday from disarmament camps in the east to a northern transit camp, the U.N. mission said, in an apparent first step to their relocation in a third country.
The ex-fighters belong to the FDLR, a Hutu militia implicated in Rwanda's 1994 genocide and blamed by the United Nations and human rights groups for atrocities in eastern Congo.
A government plane left from North Kivu province bound for a Congolese military camp in Kisangani with around 90 of the camp's more than 300 residents, said Charles Bambara, spokesman for the U.N. mission, or MONUSCO.
Another plane was expected to transport former fighters and their families from a second disarmament camp in South Kivu province to Kisangani, Bambara said.
Eastern Congo is plagued by rebel groups but the removal of FDLR would rid the region of a militia that has been at the heart of regional conflict for more than a decade.
Congo proposed a military base in the city of Kisangani earlier this year as a transit camp for the former fighters and their families who do not wish to return to Rwanda while a third country, possibly in Africa, is sought for relocation.
Until now, however, the group has refused to be relocated. It has offered no reason, but analysts see a possible reluctance to lose influence on the ground in eastern Congo when its fighters depart.
The transfer comes ahead of a Jan. 2 deadline issued in July by the Southern African Development Community and International Conference on the Great Lakes Region to the FDLR to disarm or face military intervention by Congolese and U.N. forces.
Last month, the U.N. Security Council and the other international bodies noted an absence of progress toward the disarmament of the FDLR's estimated 1,500 remaining fighters. A spokesman for the FDLR could not be reached for comment.
Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Susan Fenton