[Dateline: Goma | Author: DPKO/DDR]
In the last few weeks, the Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration, Repatriation, and Resettlement (DDRRR) programme of MONUC, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has registered an unprecedented number of volunteers for demobilization and repatriation to Rwanda from among the the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR).
"The figures for repatriation of FDLR combatants and dependents from the DRC to Rwanda stood at a little over 1,100 for the whole of 2008" says Bruno Donat, the Officer-in-Charge of MONUC’s Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration, Repatriation and Resettlement section. "In contrast, during the first six weeks of 2009, MONUC has already repatriated over 1,000 participants. When you add to this the number of Rwandan civilians repatriated since January, you have 4,000 people who have gone home voluntarily in the last two months alone."
With the launch on 20 January of Operation Umoja Wetu ("Our Unity" in Swahili), a joint endeavor of the Congolese and Rwandan armies against the FDLR, MONUC decided to capitalize on the pressure exerted by proactively reconfiguring its approach to try to increase the number of FDLR combatants laying down their weapons and returning home. The removal of the FDLR, who are in armed opposition to the present Government in Rwanda, would greatly help to normalize relations between the DRC and Rwanda and remove a major source of instability in the region.
To cater for these extraordinary times within the realm of DDRRR, MONUC decided to increase its sensitization efforts, redeploy its teams in the field, and enhance coordination internally and externally.
MONUC’s DDRRR team, aided by the Public Information Division, embarked on a vigorous sensitization campaign adapting to rapidly-evolving situations. Multi-pronged contacts with the FDLR leadership and its rank and file were increased, as were efforts to send the right message via public media, civil society groups, and the DDRRR section’s own mobile radios. MONUC opened a call center which was monitored 24/7, and embarked on a rapid production of new sensitization materials in Kinyarwanda, Swahili, and French, which were then airdropped in key locations.
The movement of FDLR cadres in response to the joint FARDC-RDF (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo/Rwandan Defence Forces) military operations prompted the deployment of additional DDRRR teams in the field in eastern DRC. In addition, extra mobile teams have been kept on standby to react to contingencies.
MONUC has also increased coordination meetings with key stakeholders involved in the repatriation process. For instance, a closer collaboration mechanism was put in place between the DDRRR section and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to cater for civilian candidates for voluntary repatriation, and between the DDRRR section and the joint DRC-Rwandan military forces to ensure that DDRRR corridors are put in place in several locations to allow volunteers to safely come forward for repatriation.
"The MONUC military escorts accompanying DDRRR teams on operations are now self-contained for 24 hours to lend flexibility for longer operations. An Air Mobile Quick Reaction Force has also been made available to us for quick deployment at short notice," adds Bruno Donat. In addition, Temporary Operating Bases are being rapidly deployed, and the military is providing enhanced security for DDRRR transit camps housing ex-combatants and their dependents.
The results achieved have been very encouraging. The DDRRR team is used to repatriating some 40 persons per week, but since the beginning of the military operations, they have had two weeks of over 400 each.
Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon welcomed the increase in the number of participants in the DDRRR programme in the DRC noting that "the effort to help FDLR combatants lay down their arms and return home voluntarily is crucial to stabilizing the volatile situation in Eastern DRC. It can help foster stability in an area that has for far too long been torn apart by violence, bringing hope not only to the Congolese people but also to others across the region."
The FDLR is a Rwandan group created by members of the ex-FAR (Rwandan Armed Forces) and interhamwe Hutumilitia, some of whom are suspected to have participated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, before fleeing to eastern DRC. Their presence has contributed to the on-going conflict there. The FDLR operates mainly in North and South Kivu, where they are reportedly illegally exploiting mineral resources and imposing their rule on the Congolese civilian population, harassing them and committing acts of violence against them.
MONUC’s DDRRR team is engaged in the repatriation process for foreign armed groups, mostly from Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, operating illegally within the DRC borders. It also continues to assist with the coordination of two DDR processes led by the Government of DRC for Congolese armed groups: the Programme National de Désarmement, Démobilisation et Réinsertion (PNDDR), and in eastern DRC, the DDR component of the AMANI program.