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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

RWANDA: The state of demobilisation, reintegration of ex-Combatants

KIGALI, 8 January 2004 (IRIN) - Not until 1997 - three years after the genocide - did the government set up a Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission for the social and economic reintegration of ex-combatants into their communities.

The demobilisation and reintegration programme is also designed to help foster reconciliation among Rwandans after the 1994 genocide and to contribute towards poverty reduction and the strengthening of peace within the Great Lakes region, the commission's coordinator, Faustin Rwigyema, told IRIN.

The first phase of this programme, which covered the period from 1997 to 2001, was for 18,692 soldiers of the current Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF), according to a March 2002 World Bank document. Funded by the government and various donors through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), it involved transporting the soldiers to demobilisation centres; verifying their military status; recording their socioeconomic data; and performing medical screening, including voluntary testing for HIV/AIDS and, where appropriate, counselling.

Demobilisation of this group succeeded, Rwigyema said, despite limited government funds and insecurity in northwest Rwanda at the time.

The second phase, which was launched in 2002 and due for completion in June 2005, aims to demobilise and reintegrate into society another 20,000 RDF soldiers and 25,000 members of armed groups returning from outside the country, according to the World Bank.

Demobilised soldiers undergo a two-week reintegration course, during which they are briefed on the government's programmes on demobilisation, national unity and reconciliation; the traditional Gacaca courts; and on the country's history and how past events were largely responsible for the 1994 genocide. They are also instructed on how to reintegrate into their communities of origin, and asked to propose projects for funding.

The second stage of the government's demobilisation programme is estimated to cost $53.3 million, the World Bank Report says. Of this, the bank's concessional lending window, the International Development Association, would inject 25 million. The World Bank said, "Other donors would be expected to finance about 25.6 million."

An estimated 25,000 ex-combatants from Rwandan Hutu militias - the Interahamwe - currently in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), who are largely acknowledged to have been the principal perpetrators of the genocide, will be demobilised in this phase on their return home.

"To the extent possible, demobilisation procedures for RDF soldiers and returning members of armed groups will be similar," Rwigyema said.

However, he said the process of demobilising the militias could not begin in earnest until the UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, and the Kinshasa government had tracked down and repatriated them.

"The rate of return is very small as far as armed elements are concerned. There has been failure on the part those responsible for tracking down the armed groups that are still roaming in the DRC," Rwigyema said.

Since the second phase of demobilisation began, only 3,641 returnee militias from the DRC have been demobilised and reintegrated into their communities. Thousands more are still roaming in the Congolese jungle.

Child Soldiers

According Rwigyema, 454 of the ex-combatants demobilised in this phase are under the age of 18 years.

The demobilisation of child soldiers is normally managed as a separate process. Children are given special help, such as separating them from adults in the demobilisation process, tracing their families towards effecting reunions, and providing them with trauma counselling, psychosocial care and access to education.

Most of the returning children are taken to school. "Those who finish primary education either go to technical schools or advance to the secondary [stage]," Boniface Riberakurola, the commission's assistant programme officer in Kigali Province, said. He declined to comment on the number of those children who are now in school.

So far in this phase of demobilisation, Rwigyema said, 65 percent of the RDF and 15 percent of the former armed groups had been demobilised, in a bid to divert the country's huge defence budget to other sectors of the economy.

"The reduction of defence spending would furthermore help ease the fiscal deficit, and in thus an important factor to achieving macroeconomic and fiscal balance in the longer term," the World Bank said.

Rwanda also says that maintaining a greatly reduced force will enable it professionalise the military.

Severance Package

On demobilisation, each RDF former soldier is given the local currency equivalent of $90 while each ex-militia member gets $70. They are also given basic household items such as blankets, saucepans, cups, plates and hoes.

In addition, all former army soldiers, including those of the former army associated with the genocide, the Forces armees rwandaises, known as ex-FAR, are given "recognition of service allowances" whose value varies with rank. Thus an army private receives the equivalent of $180, whereas a colonel gets $820. The money is paid in cash in two instalments, the first within three months of discharge.

Reintegration Package

In addition, the Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission gives each ex-combatant a reintegration grant of $180 six months after demobilisation, provided that the candidate presents a viable project to begin a new life. Community development committees examine the financial, environmental and social viability of every project proposal.

One such project is a cooperative run by Hassan Kayumba, 35, and his colleagues. After demobilisition in 2001 from the RDF, he and 10 other veterans set up the Ubumwe (meaning unity in Kinyarwanda) Cooperative in the commercial sector of the capital, Kigali. The cooperative does carpentry work and owns a number of small shops selling building materials and household goods.

"Life as a civilian cannot be compared to that in the army. The life we are living is definitely a lot better than before," Kayumba, the president of the cooperative, said.

Today, the cooperative has 18 members, including four former enemies, who were members of the ex-FAR, and four civilians. The cooperative has employed skilled civilians to train the large number of demobilised soldiers working in the carpentry workshop. On average, this cooperative earns nearly 100,000 Rwandan francs (some $200), which it deposits in its bank account. At the end of each month, the members share the earnings.

"It is this very money [100,000 francs] that we started with. We expanded slowly and started acquiring small short-term loans from credit savings banks," Kayumba said. He said the money enabled ex-soldiers to care for their families, educate their children and provide them medicines. Yet, he noted, the commission's reintegration grant was too small with which to start a viable individual project.

"Life is now becoming competitive," he said "The commission needs to restructure this package. They should also show more commitment to helping us acquire long-term loans from commercial banks."

Reintegrating the Disabled

But the commission says there is more than just money to the package. Rwigyema said the ongoing second demobilisation phase was also taking into consideration the medical and economic rehabilitation needs of ex-combatants with mental and sensory impairment, as well as those suffering from chronic diseases.

"We have started providing relevant medical facilities and services and additional economic reintegration assistance for vulnerable ex-combatants through the Vulnerability Support Window," Rwigyema said.

The commission works to place physically and mentally able ex-combatants into jobs for which they are qualified. "We try as much as possible to fit in the ex-combatants when there is an opening. To a large extent, we have been succeeding since most people understand the contributions of these people to this nation," Rwigyema said.

Ex-FAR, Interahamwe

Private security firms, which always contact the commission when they have vacancies, have hired illiterate demobilised soldiers. But for members of the ex-FAR Interahamwe, reintegration is much more difficult because of their involvement in the genocide. Despite this, Rwigyema said, there had been marked progress in reintegrating those who had returned, by virtue of the involvement of local administrators.

For example, these officials have ensured the return of property, mostly, homes and land, confiscated after these people fled to the DRC. The latter have also been introduced to the community on their return and made to attend Gacaca courts, either to give an account of what transpired during the genocide in their localities or, in some instances, to be questioned on their own participation.

"Those who are [considered] guilty of committing any atrocities are not spared at all. They are taken over by the police and the prosecutors to answer their charges," Riberakurola said.

Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict

[ENDS]

 

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