East African Community demands rebels in DRC release child soldiers

A young member of Thomas Lubanga’s rebel group in Bunia in 2003/Photo: Morland/IRIN

The release of child soldiers, rehabilitation, and care for victims of sexual violence were some of the resolutions made at the third Inter-Congolese Dialogue on the restoration of peace in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that ended on Tuesday.

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In a communique, the East African Community (EAC), which led the Nairobi process, said the facilitator, former president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, met with armed groups, civil society, and victims of sexual violence.

From the meetings, it was agreed that community leaders, DRC government officials, and officials from the EAC must form a committee to “facilitate the release of prisoners with no criminal records of atrocities and, or criminal convictions”.

One of the many grievances in the DRC, where about 140 armed militias operate, is the resource curse, and, as such, there was a call for people in areas such as national parks to be part of conservation and sustainable economic activities.

DRC President Felix Tshisekedi was asked to engage communities in eco-friendly projects and conservation.

In Maniema province, the EAC agreed that Tshisekedi should meet with the local leadership, to “discuss how the community can be involved in and benefit from the mining industry in the region”.

Armed groups control a considerable portion of the DRC’s natural resources. It was suggested that to avoid flaring of tempers that could degenerate into conflict, rebel leaders should be considered as stakeholders.

Tshisekedi has a huge task to hold consultations with the 145 “territories” in eastern DRC for them to have equal opportunities as the rest of the country.

These territories fall under local militia groups.

He will also have to engage with the international community to assist him to maintain peace in the DRC. 

For now, the priority was the release of child soldiers by all armed militia groups while the cessation of hostilities continued. It was said that humanitarian assistance should start flowing soon into communities that had been cut off by the conflict.

In January a review of the set targets will be made in Bunia, the capital city of Ituri province, and Goma, the capital of North Kivu.

From there, a medium and long-term roadmap will be put in place.

Source: News24