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A Step Towards Normal for Burundi’s Last Rebels

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A Step Towards Normal for Burundi’s Last Rebels

Posted by Enough Team on October 5, 2009

This post by Rebecca Feeley, a research consultant based in Goma, DRC and Enough’s former field analyst, originally appeared on the blog World Is Witness.

“Madame, they are very dangerous. They can be extremely violent, especially if they don’t like what you say,” warned Romain Ndagabwa without looking up from the papers swallowing his desk.  Ndagabwa, director of the demobilization center in Burundi’s second largest city, Gitega, was referring to the former combatants of the National Liberation Forces, or FNL, which were cycling through the center as part of the process of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration, or DDR.  Ndagabwa wanted to participate in my discussions with the combatants, but was too busy. I had a feeling he was trying to scare me away from doing so altogether. “I’m sure I’ll be fine,” I assured him. “I’ve interviewed former combatants before. Plus, I won’t be talking that much. Hopefully they’ll do all of that.” Mr. Ndagabwa didn’t press further. He shook my hand and agreed to gather a few of the ex-combatants for me to interview. Then he looked at his watch and ran out the door.

The pro-Hutu FNL was the last rebel group operating in Burundi until, in April of this year, the government of Burundi agreed to recognize the FNL as a legitimate political party. The FNL, in turn, agreed to integrate some combatants into the security services and demobilize others.  For those being demobilized, the center in Gitega was the last stop before being released back into their communities. I was at the center to talk to the former rebels about their pasts and was also curious about their expectations for re-integration into civilian life.

That day the center housed roughly 700 ex-combatants who would stay there only a week.  It seemed nothing more than a holding pen where most just wandered aimlessly or floated between the administrative block and the sleeping quarters. A few stepped outside the compound to buy lollipops or cigarettes. Many of them were eager to talk to me when I sat down with a group of 40 or so combatants.

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