Mr. Peter Swarbrick, who has been director, since mid 2002, of MONUC's Disarmament, Demobilisation, Repatriation, Resettlement and Reintegration (DDRRR) division for foreign combatants in the DRC, is leaving the mission. We spoke to him about his impressions of the DDRRR process over the years, the main challenges for the FARDC in the east, and MONUC's plans for the remaining foreign combatants in DRC.
For how long have you been in the MONUC mission?
I joined this mission in July 2001, so that makes it nearly six years, and I've been head of DDRRR for most of that time. I started out as director of political affairs and then as director of the separate DDRRR division, as it was, in mid 2002.
What's your impression, over the years, of the DDRRR process?
I think it's been very successful actually, it's a success that has not been exploited as much as it could have been. When we came here we were told that there was 40,000 to 50,000 interahamwe, spread all across the country, that were perceived as being extremely violent and deadly jungle fighters. They were also perceived as a standing military threat to their countries of origin, primarily Rwanda, but also to MONUC.
That may have been true at the time, but we found out that this was no longer the case. We did a report for the Security Council in April 2002 that found that there were only approximately 17,500 foreign combatants, primarily Rwandan, in the DRC, overwhelmingly concentrated in North and South Kivu.
Except for Kamina, in Katanaga province, where there was about 3,000 Rwandan combatants already cantoned and disarmed by the government, there was no significant presence of foreign combatants outside the Kivus.
Having established that there were approximately 17,000 to 18,000 foreign combatants in the country, we then proceeded to repatriate more than half of those. As of this week, we don't think there are more than 6,000 foreign combatants left, mostly concentrated in North Kivu.
We have repatriated just under 15,000 people to their countries of origin - Uganda and Rwanda - including 3,200 Burundese combatants that went back by themselves, as part of the peace process which happily succeeded in Burundi.
What are the main challenges for the FARDC in Ituri and the Kivus?
The job of the government now, including the FARDC, is to extend its authority throughout the entire territory of the DRC, which of course has not been the case for many, many years.
Speaking of the government, rather than the FARDC, because it's the government's sovereign right and duty to do that- it has to protect its civilian population, guard its borders and look after its natural resources, and a properly functioning and properly trained and armed FARDC is an integral part of that.
Obviously the government has the right to use force in certain legitimate ways, especially against armed groups as necessary, however there are other non military ways of dealing with it, which I hope the government is exploring.
The remaining foreign militias still pose a problem to the security of the DRC. What specific plan does MONUC have?
The foreign combatants who remain do indeed pose a significant security threat to the immediate Congolese civilian population, as we have seen particularly in South Kivu, where you have the Rasta phenomenon.
I don't know to what extent the Rastas and the FDLR are separate from each other, there are conflicting opinions on this, but certainly in parts of South Kivu, they behave differently from the way they behave in North Kivu, so one can see a practical distinction on the ground.
As to what specific plan MONUC has, we have the general mandate, under chapter 7, to protect the civilian population, but its a lot more difficult to implement on the ground, because of the huge distances involved and the lack of roads. Even with two brigades, we cannot possibly be everywhere, and anticipate all threats to the civilian population.
We have also the more general mandate from the Security Council to assist the Congolese government. It's rather for the government, in the exercise of its sovereign right and duty, to control all parts of the country, and to propose to MONUC ways in which they think the international community and MONUC can assist.
This might possibly include the use of military means, and for that I think they would need to produce a military plan for MONUC to review and to figure out how, under the mandate, and with the means and dispositions that we have, how MONUC could legally assist the government, although I'm not aware that there has been such a plan.