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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Tuesday 15 March 2005

CONGO: Hundreds of fighters join new disarmament programme

BRAZZAVILLE, 15 Mar 2005 (IRIN) - The government of the Republic of Congo (ROC) has initiated a new programme for the demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) of 450 former fighters who surrendered in the Pool region, in the south of the country.

It is the first such programme being entirely paid for by the government and is aimed exclusively at Ninja fighters once loyal to the Reverend Frdric Bitsangou, alias Pasteur Ntoumi.

"The realisation of this programme gives hope for peace not only for the Pool, but also for the entire country," Michel Ngakala, the government's high commissioner for the reinsertion of ex-combatants, told IRIN on 5 March during the launch.

The latest DDR programme is designed to reintegrate the former combatants into society. For this, the government will need to spend 201 million franc CFA (about US $430,000), the first minister in charge for government action and privatisation, Isidore Mvouba, said.

"I appeal to all parties for engagement and solidarity, so that the programme will become a success," he said. "We firmly believe in it."

The programme will also help create a climate for the holding of legislative elections scheduled to take place in eight districts of the Pool later this year. During the countrywide polls in 2002, elections in these districts had to be postponed because of insecurity.

Mvouba said the three-month programme was meant to provide an urgent follow-up to two earlier disarmament efforts that the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank financed. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the government's High Commissariat for the Reinsertion of Ex-combatants implemented them.

First two DDR programmes

The first two DDR programmes enabled the reintegration of about 8,000 militias. Some 6,500 of them received help from the High Commissariat in the form of income-generating microprojects. Both programmes included reintegration schemes, whereby former militiamen were given start-up money for businesses in exchange for their weapons.

Some of these businesses, such as micro projects in agriculture and fish farming, contributed to the social and economic reintegration of the former fighters. Taking into account that these ex-combatants did not regroup and take up arms again, the programmes seem to have worked.

One former combatant, Jules Kimbouala, who fought in Loudima zone, south of Brazzaville, successfully started a business after giving up his gun and signing onto the DDR programme. He received 750,000 francs ($1,500) for his three Kalashnikov assault rifles and invested the money.

"I now own about fifty pigs and an orchard with oranges and other fruit trees," he told IRIN. "I was even able to employ my younger brothers. Our biggest problem now is to bring the products to the market, but I am more or less satisfied."

Aims of new programme

The new programme for the 450 Ninjas is one more effort to reach all the remaining 43,000 militias. It is supposed to link into a final National Programme of Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reinsertion (PNDDR) that donors approved at a meeting in February in Paris. That programme is due to begin soon.

The PNDDR programme aims to disarm and integrate all combatants who had not participated in the earlier efforts because there was no money or because they were too difficult to reach.

The resident representative of the UNDP in Brazzaville, Aurelien Agbenonci, said the government had asked donors for $20 million for the PNDDR programme. The programme consists of five components and, other than disarming and reintegrating former fighters into society economically, will also care for child soldiers.

"We have almost 3,500 child soldiers who need to go back to school," Ngakala said.

The government plans to provide for basic schooling and vocational training in trades like welding, carpentry and construction. With the extensive PNDDR programme, the government also hopes to embark on a major effort in conflict prevention and in reforming its security forces.

"We live in a country emerging from war," Ngakala said. "The armed forces must be reorganized so that they really become a national and republican force."

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