Finally, there appears to be some good news coming out of eastern Congo, to balance a steady stream of horror stories. The numbers of ex-FDLR combatants and their dependents that have presented themselves to disarmament and repatriation centers has sharply increased in the three weeks since the announcement and commencement of the Rwanda-Congo joint military operation against the FDLR. As of yesterday, a total of 209 ex-combatants and 338 dependents have returned to Rwanda in 2009, aided by the U.N. Mission in Congo, or MONUC’s Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration, and Resettlement program (also known as DDRRR). The largest repatriation in years took place last week when 135 ex-combatants and 286 dependents returned to Rwanda. Another 70 ex-combatants are at centers waiting to go through the screening process required to repatriate. This is a far cry from last year’s repatriation trickle of about 5 ex-combatants per week.
This news of high ex-combatant returns is coupled with equally high numbers of UNHCR-assisted civilian returns. Actually, the majority of people that have arrived at MONUC’s DDRRR centers to be repatriated are civilians with no links to the FDLR and thus, as refugees, are transferred to the U.N. Refugee Agency, UNHCR. UNHCR recently reported that in the past three weeks, 1263 civilians from the FDLR-heavy province of South Kivu and 397 civilians from North Kivu were repatriated, the majority being females. Let’s hope this trend continues, but there are already some warning signs with 150 Hutu rebels who were awaiting repatriation have ‘disappeared.’