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AFRICA: Integration of ex-combatants 'still a challenge'

KINSHASA, 18 June 2007 (IRIN) - The reintegration of former fighters into civilian life remains a key challenge to stability in Africa, according to regional leaders.

A conference in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) and stability in Africa, was attended by representatives from 23 countries.

"One of the important lessons that we recommend to the authorities in each country is not to let a national programme operate without local support," said Daniel Kawata, the coordinator of the DRC’s national DDR commission.

The DRC internal affairs minister, Mbusa Nyamwisi, said while 130,000 ex-combatants had been demobilised in his country, including 2,610 women and 30,200 children, thousands of others still awaited demobilisation or continued to operate as militias despite the end of civil war.

"One should not confuse the end of the transition with the end of the tasks that lie ahead, among them the DDR, the formation of a republican army and national police," said William Lacy Swing, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in the DRC.

According to the Chadian representative, Abdoulaye Youmous, Chad had successfully conducted such a process between 1993 and 1994 almost without external support after the country's armed conflict.

By contrast, countries that relied on external support for DDR programmes such as the DRC had experienced difficulties. Neighbouring countries, participants at the meeting said, also had an important role to play because of the impact of DDR on the stability of the whole continent.

Swing said Africans had to be at the forefront of disarmament and reintegration efforts in their continent. He called for African ways and African voices to be better incorporated into such processes.

So far, the UN Mission in the DRC has helped to voluntarily repatriate 15,000 foreign combatants since 2000, but an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 others remained.

The conference highlighted four important aspects of DDR: children and women associated with fighting forces; combatants operating on foreign soil; DDR and security sector reform; and transitional justice.

According to participants, it was necessary to address the problems and needs of female ex-combatants, child soldiers and other children closely associated with the conflict. Some DDR programmes had rapidly demobilised child soldiers, but girls were often excluded or neglected, while children were often treated without full regard for their particular needs.

It was also agreed that combatants who operated outside their own countries were a major challenge to peace and security in Africa. Such ‘combatants on foreign soil’ had been involved in conflicts in the Great Lakes region and West Africa.



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