Tuesday, April 28, 2009

DRC News Update: Refugees in Zambia Urged to Return Home; Report on Children and War

EU, UN urge DRC refugees in Zambia to return home

Tue Apr 28, 2009 12:14pm EDT
By Haggai Chilabi

KALA CAMP, Zambia, April 28 (Reuters) - The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR and the European Union urged Congolese refugees on Tuesday to return home from Zambia, warning food aid could dry up as agencies focus on other humanitarian projects.

Officials at Kala Camp said out of 18,549 people that the UNHCR planned to repatriate this year to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), only 129 had registered for the voluntary programme.

Junior Home Affairs Minister Misheck Bonshe said Zambia may shut down the camp and warned that refugees who refused to leave would be treated as illegal immigrants. The repatriation programme, which will resume in May, has been suspended several times due to funding shortfalls and heavy rains.

During a visit to the camp 1,080 km (670 miles) north of Lusaka, officials from the UNHCR and the EU made a joint appeal to refugees to return to the DRC.

"We ask that you take this as the best opportunity to go home because (our) support will not be in perpetuity," said James Lynch, the resident UNHCR representative.

"There will be other competing events that need our support, so that means we will not be able to provide (your requirements) as before."

Officials say 45,307 refugees out of a total of 81,684 refugees still living in Zambia are from the DRC.

Years of fighting between Congo's army, local ethnic militias and troops from neighbouring states have sent waves of refugees fleeing across most of the vast nation's land borders, straining the resources of nearby countries.

Derek Fee, head of the European Union delegation to Zambia, said that the EU would focus on assisting refugees who have returned to the DRC.

"Now that conditions back home are conducive for your return, our assistance to UNHCR will shift more to DRC to help with your re-integration in the DRC," Fee said.

(Writing by Shapi Shacinda)

Congo-Kinshasa: Surrenders of Rwandan Rebels in Eastern DR Congo Ramp Up, UN Says

27 April 2009

The number of Rwandans laying down their arms and leaving militias that terrorize civilians in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has multiplied four-fold on a monthly basis compared to last year, the United Nations reported today.

Rwandan rebels are now surrendering at a rate of 146 fighters a month, according to the UN mission in the DRC (MONUC), with more than 660 heeding the mission's call to return to civilian life since the start of this year, along with 1000 of their dependents.

This past weekend, another 10 members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) surrendered to a joint UN-Congolese army patrol near Goma. The rebels brought with them 31 of their dependents along with a sizable arsenal of weapons, MONUC said.

The mission said the new additions to its disarmament program are now being processed for repatriation to Rwanda.

It called on remaining FDLR fighters to follow suit, offering them and their families a chance for a decent future and stressing that life in the bush will only become more and more difficult from now on.

The voluntary disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, reintegration and rehabilitation (DDRRR) programme for the ex-militia is managed by MONUC, while civilians are repatriated by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

The FDLR and other Rwandan militias have been a key factor in the resurgence of violence in North Kivu province, where over 100,000 civilians have been uprooted by fighting in the past two months, in addition to the many hundreds of thousands previously displaced.

The ethnic Hutu rebels, who recently carried out a wave of retaliatory attacks against civilians after being targeted by a joint Congolese and Rwandan military offensive, have been operating in eastern DRC since the 1994 genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda.

DRC: Thousands of civilians trapped in east as clashes resume

KINSHASA, 24 April 2009 (IRIN) - Thousands of civilians in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are trapped amid clashes between government forces and Rwandan rebels.

“The two sides accuse the civilians of helping their enemies. Some houses have been occupied by the army,” said Nestor Yombo, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

He identified the areas in Lubero territory affected by clashes between the DRC army and the Forces democratique pour la liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) as Kanyabayonga, Kirumba, Kayna, Luofu, Kasiki, Miriki, Masika, Kanyatsi, Kalonge, Bingi, among others.

The FDLR presence here follows their forced departure during a joint operation by troops from both DRC and Rwanda in mid-January.

Yombo said that during the heaviest recent fighting on 17 April in Luofu and Kasiki, 16 people were killed, including six children who were burned to death. Hundreds of houses were torched and the local health centre looted.

The DRC army and the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, known as MONUC. are currently setting up a joint operation against the FDLR.

MONUC military spokesman Jean-Paul Dietrich said the FDLR attacked Luofu while peacekeeping troops were deployed in a nearby village.

“They [peacekeepers] reacted as soon as we learnt there was gunfire in Luofo. The FDLR was targeting the army and not civilians and some huts caught fire because of the gunfire,” he said.

Some aid agencies have delivered essential humanitarian supplies to Luofu, said Yombo.

Fears over child soldiers

NAIROBI, 22 April 2009 (IRIN) - More child soldiers are to be demobilised in South Kivu Province, but concerns remain because some of those freed earlier have ended up in the national army, Radhika Coomaraswamy, special representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict, has told a news conference in Kinshasa.

About 1,200 children have been released from various militias since January. However, any that have joined specially designated brigades within the national army will not be allowed to stay.

"The new Congolese army cannot afford to have children in its ranks and the integration process is a unique opportunity to identify and release them," she said.

At a transit centre in Masisi, she heard stories of grave human rights violations: "Sexual violence remains one of the most critical concerns in the DRC, devastating the lives of thousands of girls," she said.

R. Coomaraswamy: 48% of the victims of sexual violence in the DRC are children

Kinshasa, April 21, 2009 - Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for children and armed conflict, gave a press conference today in Kinshasa at the end of her eight day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where she gave an account of her visit, which included Goma and Masisi in North Kivu and Dungu in Orientale province.

Ms. Coomaraswamy noticed that “the recent major political developments offer opportunities for the liberation of children associated with armed groups.”

Since January 2009, 1,300 children were liberated during the process of accelerated integration of the CNDP (National Congress for the Defence of the People) and other armed groups into the FARDC (DRC Armed Forces).

After her meeting today with the DRC Minister for Defence, Ms. Coomaraswamy said she obtained his agreement so that the representatives of MONUC’s Child Protection division, and also those of other UN agencies, in particular UNICEF, are present at the FARDC integration sites in order to check for the presence of children.

“The new Congolese army cannot be allowed to have children in its ranks, and the process of integration is a single opportunity to identify and release them,” said the Special Representative.

As for the problem of sexual violence, the Special Representative said that 48% of victims in the DRC are minors, and that 67% of those responsible are men in uniform.

She thus asked Alan Doss, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in the DRC, to advocate to the President of the Republic Joseph Kabila for the creation of a post of special envoy within the Presidency, to tackle the fight against sexual violence.

Ms. Coomaraswamy said that the Ministry of the Interior with the support of UNICEF will create a special unit within the Congolese police, in the fight against sexual violence.

She also cited the fight against impunity, which “is one of the priorities for the civilian populations”. In this regard, she underlined the good work of the military auditors of South Kivu province but noted that there was still much to be done.

Furthermore, Ms. Coomaraswamy said that the dependents of soldiers needed more assistance. She cited the need for the creation of military barracks to shelter these families and to give access to education for the soldiers’ children.

Displaced people were also a cause of concern for the Special Representative, and she stressed that it is necessary to include the education of displaced children as one of the programme priorities for humanitarian actors,

Ms. Coomaraswamy finally advocated for the creation of a modern and professional DRC army without children in its ranks, and demanded of international donors to contribute to the funding of programmes for the rehabilitation of children liberated from armed groups.

“Except for the French government’s pilot programme, there are no long term (three year) reintegration and rehabilitation programmes for children liberated from armed groups in the DRC. I met with the ambassadors of donor countries, and explained to them that the need for extra funding was a priority,” the Special Representative concluded.

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