UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
BURUNDI: Demobilisation of former fighters begins
BUJUMBURA, 2 Dec 2004 (IRIN) - A total of 216 former fighters, five of them women, were demobilised on Thursday in Burundi's Muramyva Province, marking the beginning of a demobilisation programme for an estimated 55,000 combatants.
"The launching of the demobilisation programme is an important step for the peace process in Burundi," said Carolyn McAskie, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and head of the UN Mission in Burundi.
McAskie and Burundian President Domitien Ndayizeye burned 100 guns at the demobilisation centre to symbolise the beginning of the disarmament and demobilisation programme that is expected to end more than a decade of civil war in the country.
Seventy-five of those demobilised were from the government's forces while 141 were from six former rebel factions that signed peace deals with the government in 2002 and 2003.
The executive secretary of the National Commission in charge of Demobilisation, Reinsertion and Reintegration, Liberat Ntunzwenimana, said the demobilisation started with volunteers.
"Some 1,680 government soldiers and 2,561 former combatants have already volunteered to be demobilised," Ntunzwenimana said.
The demobilised former government soldiers and ex-rebels were grouped together in Muramyva for Thursday's launch, although centres have been set up at Randa in the province of Bubanza and in the central province of Gitega for former rebel combatants. The Muramvya centre will deal only with former government soldiers.
The head of the Muramvya demobilisation centre, Benjamin Niyokindi, told reporters on Thursday that those demobilised would spend up to 10 days undergoing civic training and education on HIV/AIDS prevention. Afterwards, they would receive a demobilisation card that would allow them to return to civilian life.
Each demobilised former fighter receives the local equivalent of US $450 as well as two successive lump sum payments, one of them immediately. These payments depend on the rank of the individual and are each equivalent to nine months' salary.
To further help with the demobilisation process, Defence Minister Brig-Gen Vincent Niyungeko announced the creation of a special bureau to analyse all claims from demobilised soldiers and combatants.
"They [the former soldiers and ex-combatants] have played an important role in the country and therefore deserve respect," Niyungeko said.
The executive secretariat of the demobilisation commission expects to demobilise 14,000 ex-combatants each year for the next three years, and 13,000 during the fourth year.
Since Tuesday, the UN Mission in Burundi, known as ONUB, has been supervising the disarmament of ex-rebels in their respective pre-assembly points and government soldiers in the northern province of Kayanza.
ONUB military spokesman Maj Adama Diop told IRIN on Tuesday that as soon as the soldiers and ex-combatants were disarmed, they were taken to demobilisation centres and handed over to the demobilisation commission.
It is expected that the demobilisation would leave about 25,000 troops to form a new unified defence forces drawn from the army and all the former rebel movements.
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