KAGA BANDORO, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC —
The United Nations is trying a new approach to the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (or DDR) of armed groups. The new approach, described as pre-DDR, is being launched in the Central African Republic's northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of the mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and the Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work.
Since November, the U.N. mission in Kaga Bandoro has enrolled 481 ex-combatants in pre-DDR and is paying most of them nearly $4 a day, mainly for cleaning up the town. To qualify they had to hand in weapons - 206 locally made hunting rifles, 10 modern assault rifles and 2,600 rounds of ammunition.
Pre-DDR is a temporary arrangement, pending the launch of a full scale disarm, demobilize and reintegrate program, which will have to be planned by the government. Unlike a conventional DDR program, this deal does not involve giving each ex-combatant training for a particular occupation, but some of those in the program in Kaga Bandoro have already saved enough money to launch their own businesses – including shops, and even an Internet cafe.
On Friday the mission collected more arms from about 130 people. But U.N. weapons expert Helder Gaspar Da Costa was not impressed with the haul.
Da Costa asks one young man who has presented a locally made hunting rifle how much he paid for it. The man says he paid 15,000 Central African Francs (about $25). Da Costa says that was expensive and questions whether there is any ammunition. When the young man says there is none, Da Costa says the gun is useless and probably a fake.
About half of the dozens of hunting rifles handed in are listed as non-operational.
Some fake ex-combatants
Da Costa also questioned people as to whether they were real combatants.
“You were living in Boto and fighting on the Dago axis?” he asks another man claiming to be anti-Balaka. “That’s 48 kilometers? Then you were doing a marathon every day. Get real,” he says.
Da Costa says former combatants must bring in real weapons or they will not be accepted for pre-DDR. He challenges anti-Balaka supervisor Maxim Azoudanga to produce genuine ex-combatants. Azoudanga wanted the U.N. to accept the applicants who assembled on Friday.
"The U.N. should accept these weapons and enroll these people on the scheme," Azoudanga told VOA. "Otherwise they’ll go back to banditry."
The United Nations is considering benefits for communities that hand in this type of weapon, Da Costa says.
Benefits like solar panels for community use are being considered, but not pre-DDR payments for individuals.