MONUC ‘Helpline’ for former Rebels


MONUC peacekeepers are using broadcasts from mobile radio stations, mobile phones and leaflets air-dropped over hostile territory, to encourage rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, FDLR to quit the bush in eastern Congo and accept safe passage to Rwanda.

The agency is also using its powerful nation-wide radio station, ‘Radio Okapi’ to broadcast special messages on the process of Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration, and Resettlement (DDRRR). Radio Okapi also carries interviews with former rebels who have been safely repatriated and reunited with families in their old communities.

The news of peaceful homecomings and the mass distribution of mobile telephone numbers to call when rebels want to surrender their weapons, made it possible for rebels like Colonel Ngoboka Rachid of the rebel Group ‘Raliement Pour Unite’ et la Democratie’ (RUD) to surrender to MONUC in the remote village of Mashuta in Luofu, North Kivu last month. DDRRR staff received a phone call from Colonel Rachid telling them he wanted to go home to Rwanda and on 18 March, Indian peacekeepers arranged a rendezvous at a secret location in Luofu that was identified by the Colonel for extraction. After a two hour trek into the forest and repeated phone calls, Colonel Rachid and six other armed RUD rebels surfaced and surrendered. They have all been repatriated to Rwanda.

The DDRRR service delivery system including its mobile phone facility also covers ex-combatants entering the voluntary repatriation program. Many FDLR ex-combatants have been using the phone facility in a transit camp in Uvira to alert friends and loved ones that they have reached safe heavens.

Sebahinzi Fulgence, alias Mpenzi William, also took MONUC up on its offer of peaceful surrender recently. Speaking from Uvira under the protection of MONUC, he called family members in Tanzania and Rwanda: “I am freed at last because I am in the hands of MONUC now, and they will repatriate me to Rwanda shortly,” he told them. “Don’t worry because I will soon be with you all”. Asked about the reaction of his family members, Sebahinzi said “everyone is in the state of disbelief that I am still alive and will be rejoining them”.

The Director of the DDRRR section, Gregory Alex, says the mobile phone service to ex-combatants in the transit centers should also play an important role in the sensitization campaign included in ongoing ‘Amani Leo’ military operations.

In another encouraging development, some ex-combatants have begun sharing mobile numbers in their possession so that DDRRR staff can contact FDLR colleagues who are still active in the forests. DDRRR staff are encouraging them to abandon the conflict and share Sebahinzi Fulgence’s good fortune of safe passage.

This is not an easy thing for some to accept in the midst of armed conflict: “Most of our colleagues would like to breakaway from the ranks of the FDLR and enter the DDRRR process,” said one former combatant, adding that they are finding it difficult to break free of their own forces and then bypass the Congolese army which is hunting for them. “It is my Congolese wife who guided me in bypassing these forces to come to safety at the DDRRR camp,” he said. “I am very thankful to her”.

Pic: FDRL rebels