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DR Congo: Disarmament in Ituri progresses, but other steps needed – UN official

DR Congo: Disarmament in Ituri progresses, but other steps needed – UN official

Disarmament in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) Ituri province is proceeding apace but more steps are needed to foster lasting stability in the area, which has a history of ethnic tensions and cross-border rebel activity, a United Nations official said today.

In an interview published on MONUC’s website, Gustavo Gonzalez, operation coordinator for the UN Development Programme (UNDP), said that in Ituri,

the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process unfolded in three phases: during the first, 15,941 fighters were demobilized, there were 6,728 fighters in the second, and in the latest, 1,795 of those who were “more recalcitrant.”

The Ituri total represents about one quarter of the total demobilized soldiers in the DRC, he said.

He said the process could be fully evaluated only after the reinsertion phase, when the former fighters will have been reintegrated in their communities and “the whole population of the Ituri will be able to sleep in peace knowing that it will not be pillaged or robbed at any moment.”

But he said that “with the surrender of the last commanders-in-chief, the problem of the fighters is resolved today in Ituri.”

At the same time, he cautioned that “without concrete measures to fight poverty, without offering alternate means to the weapon usage, and without restoring the authority of the State,” there is a risk that the cycle of conflict will be repeated.

Mr. Gonzalez said poverty is a key cause of conflict in Ituri, where there are more than 170,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and about 700,000 returnees seeking jobs. The area also has a history of inter-ethnic tension and has been subject to cross-border rebel activity.

The DDR programme alone cannot resolve the militia problem in Ituri, he stressed, calling for measures to deal with the illegal trade in light weapons and the illegal exploitation of natural resources.

“DDR is only one chapter in a global process of conflict resolution, in which the fight against poverty, justice and security sector reforms are also equally important,” he said.

The rehabilitation phase, he cautioned, is more complex and more sensitive. UNDP, along with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and a network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), is supporting a new approach to the process. Instead of paying subsidies to demobilized soldiers – a practice that could cause security problems – the initiative involves mobilizing them in the service of reconstructing communities affected by the war.

“This proved to be a tremendous tool of reinsertion and of reconciliation,” Mr. Gonzalez said of the three-month service during which demobilized soldiers work with other members of the community. At the end of the process, they receive support in a chosen trade, the tools needed for work and financing to start up a community project.