Actors & Activities

Last Updated: April 7, 2009

Beneficiaries of DDR programs

Beneficiaries of disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration (DDR) programs typically include government forces, opposition rebel groups, civil defense forces, irregular armed groups and armed civilians. The irregular and civilian armed groups include: male and female combatants, those associated with the fighting, those who perform support roles (voluntarily or forcibly conscripted), or those who have been abducted; child soldiers (boys and girls), foreign combatants, and the dependants of combatants.1 Under the category of combatants are also members of specialized security forces, former anti-government guerrillas, militiamen in organized forces aligned with one of the major parties, those who have taken up arms in self-defense independent of any major party; and war veterans.2 In addition, UN-supported DDR programs include receiving communities, which may include returning internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees as important stakeholders.3

Who is a combatant?

Debate surrounds the identity or self-conception of irregular combatants vis--vis civilians. This debate is characterized by conceptual and practical difficulties.4 DDR programs often view irregular combatants as a unified group irrespective of their varying circumstances.5 However the line between combatant and civilians can be blurred, particularly when civilians participate in conflict as part-time soldiers. In many instances, there is a porous distinction between constituted armies and politico-mafioso militias, arising from organized crime or from more localized functions. In the advent of a peace agreement, a large number of these armed groups are not officially considered as protagonists of the conflict, and therefore evade inclusion in programs.

The problem of identifying combatants is complicated by the fact that the precise military structure of guerrilla forces are often difficult to ascertain. For instance, in Afghanistan every commander tends to inflate the number of his men to show political superiority and to draw more entitlement from the donors. In Kabul and Mazar, the commanders made up smaller units for disarmament, by taking bits from several military units. This is just one of the strategies that can be used to hide significant forces and weapons. The situation is even more complicated when, as in Haiti, Afghanistan, Iraq, or in various places in Africa, local militias have been paid and armed by external powers. In such situations, it becomes very difficult to manage DDR programs, since former patrons are inclined to apply double standards to their former clients, and are reluctant to reveal any information regarding the actual strength and composition of these forces.6 However, an authentic, nontransferable, and non-corruptible identification system is of paramount importance for avoiding targeting errors.7

In the past, DDR programs often failed to recognize that armed groups were comprised of men, women and children, in both forced and voluntary capacities.8 The Definition of participants and eligibility criteria, therefore, must be culturally and gender sensitiveto address the different roles these groups performed during conflicts and to design programs to meet their different needs. This effort should also recognize the different needs of youth, mentally and/or physically disabled ex-combatants and those associated with armed forces and groups.9

The UN Secretary-General has noted that the eligibility criteria should be rigorous, transparent and unambiguous, as well as inclusive enough to cater to women in combat and non-combat roles, children associated with the armed forces and groups and ex-combatants with disabilities, but not so lax as to allow abuse of the program. Non-discrimination and fair and equitable treatment are core principles in both the design and implementation of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, as is respect for international humanitarian law and the promotion of human rights. 10

Who is a child soldier?

A child soldier is any person under 18 years of age who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity including, but not limited to, combatants, cooks, porters, messengers and anyone accompanying such groups, other than family members. The definition includes girls recruited for sexual purposes and for forced marriage. It does not, therefore, only refer to a child who is carrying or has carried arms. Some boys and girls might have been abducted or forcibly recruited; others have been driven to join by poverty, abuse and discrimination, societal or peer pressure, or to seek revenge for violence against them or their families.13

Protection of their Rights

Article 1 of the 2000 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict raises the minimum age for direct participation in hostilities from 15 to 18. Article 2 of the Optional Protocol prohibits conscription or forced recruitment below the age of 18.

The 1998 Statute of the International Criminal Court makes it a war crime to conscript or enlist children under 15 into national armed forces or to use them to participate actively in hostilities in international and internal armed conflicts.

The 1999 International Labor Organizations Convention No. 182 defines the forced and compulsory recruitment of children as a worst form of child labor and prohibits the practice.

Source: UNICEF, Child Protection Information Sheet: children associated with armed groups, 2006.

Considering child soldiers

In some countries, groups of combatants are made up of young boys and girls for whom armed struggle has become a means of social ascent as well as survival. In a number of contemporary wars, they form a social group on their own which needs to be analyzed as such. In some cases (as in Ituri in East Congo), half of those fighting have been estimated to be under-age.11 Many of these children were abducted while they were extremely young. Others, as in Uganda in the 1980s and in Sudan, joined rebel groups voluntarily and later were reluctant to disarm and demobilize. In some cases, child soldiers have gone through several DDR processes, but return to fighting because they feel they have a better life and social status as a soldier than as a civilian.

Some practitioners feel that attention to the age of child soldiers (teenagers or children of eight to ten years old) and to their personal trajectories (duration of their combatant life, positions occupied) is important in the DDR process. Their demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration require specific responses. A number of international practitioners and relief workers came together in Cape Town, South Africa in 1997 to develop international guidelines and best practices on preventing the recruitment of children into armed forces. Participants also discussed the demobilization and social reintegration of child soldiers into African communities in post-conflict environments. The symposium resulted in the publication of the Cape Town Principles and Best Practices. The 2007 Paris Principles on Ending the Trauma of Child Soldiers, which updates the Cape Town Principles, are guidelines that were agreed by 58 countries (in addition to France).

In the context of an ongoing conflict, long-term reintegration support can also prevent the re-recruitment of children who may have joined armed groups and forces for reasons related to poverty. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for instance, ensuring childrens access to school, catch-up education and vocational training programs has reduced the likelihood of re-recruitment of some 7,151 children, who have left armed groups and been reunited with their families.12
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Considering women combatants

Women combatants are often invisible and their needs are overlooked.14 Very little attention is given to girls and women as combatants or non-combatants.15 Sometimes, they are classified as dependents and precluded from receiving the benefits provided to combatants. 16In general, women ex-combatants only make up a very small portion of forces that need to be demobilized and are de-prioritized because they do not represent the same level of threat as male ex-fighters.17 Interestingly, one study on Sierra Leone found that at the individual level, contrary to conventional wisdom, there is little evidence that women or young people faced a significantly harder time gaining acceptance into civilian life, finding employment, breaking ties to their factions, or adopting to the new political system.18 However the study was careful to emphasize that the results were based on fixed effects.

DDR programs, such as in Sierra Leone and Liberia, have tended to focus on short-term goals, which excluded women combatants, dependents, and non-combatants with support roles.19 In many cases, the attention is focused more on boy child soldiers and on girls and young women as wives or sexual slaves. Female combatants are sometimes abducted or may have voluntarily joined armed groups to serve as combatants, nurses, cooks, sex workers, messengers, spies or administrative or logistical personnel. During DDR programs they tend to be categorized as vulnerable groups, a category that includes also wounded or disabled male combatants and all women and children who accompany warring factions.20 However, some of them have participated in armed combat, as in Sri Lanka, Chechnya, Liberia or Sierra Leone. This is a group that may have very different attitudes to the possession and use of weapons.21 One female ex-combatant in Eritrea interviewed for a study remarked that, It was the most terrible and most rewarding time of my life, in response to her experiences concerning the war and feelings of empowerment.22

The protection of female combatants and civilians rights

The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the two Additional Protocols of 1977 are the main international instruments that protect female combatants and civilians:

1. Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Adopted on 12 August 1949 by the Diplomatic Conference for the Establishment of International Conventions for the Protection of Victims of War, held in Geneva from 21 April to 12 August, 1949.

2. Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977.
3. Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 8 June 1977.

The provision on the maintenance and restoration of family ties, require women to be treated with all consideration due to their sex, including reducing vulnerability to sexual violence. The instruments guarantee that female prisoners of war, internees and detainees to be treated with all regard due to their sex and are to be provided with female supervision and accommodation and sanitary facilities separate from males.

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Leaders and followers

The peace process may sharpen the divergence of interests between the leaders and their followers. In the cantonment camps, demobilized soldiers often confess their feeling of having been abandoned by their superiors.In Mozambique, the economic package offered to the commanders bore little similarity to what was offered to the ordinary soldiers. In 1994, uprisings took place and hostages were taken to put pressure on the UN mission. In October, on the eve of the elections, former soldiers threatened to disrupt the democratic process. In Mozambique, the association of demobilized regular soldiers also included demobilized members of the guerrilla force (RENAMO), united in similar claims; a situation, which is not uncommon. The situation may be just as risky if combatants are demobilized but not their commanders, 23 as has been the case in Afghanistan in the earlier stages, or if the command structures remain intact and can easily re-mobilize for non-conventional combats. Leaving the military structure and the command chain together is a downsizing approach that most of the military factions have tried to pursue in Afghanistan. In some cases, demobilized combatants rejoined the same faction. In other cases, the commanders harassed demobilized combatants to get a kickback from the demobilization benefit. Downsizing is a flawed, albeit common, approach of DDR. This explains why, in Afghanistan, a commander-specific reintegration program has been designed. The Commander Incentive Program acknowledges high-ranking commanders who have fully complied with the DDR process by nominating them for government appointments, redundancy payments, economic and non-economic packages.24 But few international donors are prepared to pay for commanders who may be war criminals. Consequently, DDR programs have rarely budgeted for reintegrating commanders. 

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National and international actors shaping DDR processes

National actors who shape the disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration (DDR) process include the signatories of the peace agreement, including the military; national and transitional governments, political parties and leaders; armed forces and groups; civil society groups; womens leaders and associations; provincial and local authorities; community-based organizations; religious groups; the private sector; and the media.25

International actors such as the UN system, bilateral and multilateral donors, and regional and other international organizations also play an important role in the process.26 Private companies and bilateral and multilateral agencies are also engaged as implementers of DDR programs. Under the UN system, aside from the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), two key development agencies are chiefly responsible for advancing DDR: the World Bank and the UN Development Programme (UNDP). In the past, though they occasionally cooperated, they also regularly endorsed competing, even contradictory, philosophies and approaches.

In a recent report, the UN Secretary-General has also insisted on several principles for any DDR program. Some of them refer to the role and relationships between national and international actors, insisting on the need for accountability and transparency on the part of all actors, and on the importance of national ownership.27

DDR program principles

Accountability and Transparency

The UN aims to establish transparent mechanisms for the independent monitoring, oversight and evaluation of all disarmament, demobilization and reintegration operations and financing mechanisms. Specifically, national authorities and the parties need to be held accountable for implementing their agreements and national and international implementing agencies must be accountable to the participants and beneficiaries. The UN system should adhere to the principles and standards for designing and implementing disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs and Member States and bilateral partners will be encouraged to provide political and financial support to the process.

Nationally Owned

The UN recognizes that genuine, effective and broad national ownership of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process is important to its successful implementation and critical for the sustainability of the reintegration of ex-combatants. While the UN may be called upon to provide strategic, technical, operational and financial support to disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, the responsibility for moving the process forward in terms of planning, coordinating and implementing these programs rests with national and local actors and stakeholders.


The UN recommends the adoption of an integrated approach to disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. Wherever applicable, integrated disarmament, demobilization and reintegration units are to be established to facilitate joint planning, programming and resource mobilization to promote effective decentralized implementation. Strategies across sectors also need to be integrated and a regional approach to the conflict must be adopted.

Source: Report of the UN Secretary-General on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, A/60/705, (2006), para. 29-37, 9-10.

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Developing a common approach to DDR

The objectives of disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration (DDR) are to contribute to security and stability by facilitating reintegration of former warring groups, provide the enabling environment for rehabilitation and recovery, act as a confidence- building measure, help prevent or mitigate future violent conflict, contribute to national reconciliation as arms are removed from communities and combatants reintegrated, and to free up human and financial resources and social capital for reconstruction and development.28

Timely implementation of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs is also important. It depends upon accurate information from the parties on the size and location of their armed forces; number, type and location of weapons; and agreement on the location of sites for disarmament and demobilization, as well as on the timing of these processes.29 Any component of the process, and more particularly demobilization, can take place at different stages of the conflict. In Congo-Brazzaville, demobilization took place during a ceasefire; in Angola and Sierra Leone, demobilizations started before peace in which demobilization centers began serving as recruitment grounds and led to the recycling of combatants.30

In response to the ambiguity of sequencing, there has been a UN inter-agency effort to develop a common approach to DDR in peacekeeping context over the last several years. The Executive Committee on Peace and Security established the Inter-Agency Working Group on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, which included 15 departments, agencies, funds and programs. The working group developed policies and concepts of DDR in the peacekeeping environment that became to be known as the Integrated Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Standards (IDDRS) to integrate and effectively coordinate the different UN agencies work on DDR and to systematically articulate and apply best practices.31 The success of this new approach depends on a change in the culture of the departments, agencies, funds and programs of the United Nations system towards shared goals and increased integration and cooperation.32 It has also been reflected in the creation of the UN DDR Resource Center, an important step towards a unified approach, at least inside the UN system.

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The different ways of administering disarmament

Voluntary vs. forced disarmament

The disarmament process is often based on voluntary disarmament of combatants, a process that is highly complex since some combatants may regard their weapons as a guarantee of their position and security.33 There are situations where, if no forces can fill the security vacuum, disarmament may create insecurities among those who agreed to disarm, as well as asymmetries between stakeholders, thereby further undermining prospects for meaningful stability and security.

Coercive and deterrence-based interventions in post-conflict situations include forcible disarmament campaigns, short-term amnesties, and the introduction and enforcement of stiff legislative penalties to enforce compliance. Lessons from coercive interventions are that they are capital and labor intensive, and seldom sustainable.

Interventions seek to introduce normative compliance through local peace agreements with voluntary disarmament and reintegration clauses (as in Papua New Guinea), the declaration of weapons-free areas where civilian as well as combatant weapons are collected (as in South Africa and the Solomon Islands), and even so-called weapons for development projects favored by the UN Development Programme (in over 15 countries world-wide). By building on existing customary institutions, these interventions offer a process that engenders ownership and ensures a degree of sustainability. These programs demand a greater appreciation and assessment of the values and norms of particular societies in order to elaborate appropriate incentives and deterrents for disarmament. Sensitivity to local mechanisms also needs to include the identification and use of local conflict prevention/dispute mechanisms, which can actually facilitate weapons reduction. Indeed, controls and policing are insufficient unless tied to measures that remove the rationales for having weapons, akin to treating the symptoms rather than the cause. Policing drives the illegal activity underground and the poor who make money out of transactions try something else, such as drug trafficking. Lessons from the past also highlight the important role played by penalties and deterrents penalties that are enforced to ensure compliance. In other words, deterrence and normative compulsion can and should work side by side.34

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Weapons for development programs

Voluntary disarmament may rely on different mechanisms. The UN Integrated Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration standards (IDDRS) advocate for weapons for development programs (also known as weapons amnesty) to link DDR with arms control and reduction measures.35 Such programs were conducted in Mali, Cambodia, and Nicaragua, where weapons were collected in exchange for seed money through a UNDP micro-credit program; in Mozambique, where ex-combatants exchanged their weapons for tools and machinery; and in Gramsh, Albania, where the program focused on community needs as a whole.  

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Cash payment programs

Cash payment programs provide financial incentives for ex-combatants who voluntarily disarm. Some of the UN arms buy-back programs took place in Liberia, Mozambique, Somalia, and Cte dIvoire. Cash payments in exchange for weapons may lead to misperceptions of the cash for weapons exchange and increase insecurity in areas with porous border and limited economic opportunities. In West Africa, for instance, while the incentive for surrendering weapons was USD970 or more per combatant in Cte dIvoire, it was as low as USD300 in neighboring Liberia. The disparity in the amount offered resulted in combatants from Liberia crossing over to Cte dIvoire to triple the financial value of their weapons.36 A similar scenario occurred in the Croatian process, where it was alleged that money collected for old weapons was used to buy newer ones smuggled from across the border with Serbia.37 These examples show that arms buy-back programs have a tendency to attract old and unserviceable weapons, and often stimulate the creation of an illegal arms market.38 As an alternative, community-based approaches are suggested to replace monetary incentives in order to reach the whole community including refugees, internally displaced persons and returnees, or reduce or avoid cash payments especially for child soldiers.39 

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Beyond weapons reduction and arms management programs, changing attitudes

The objective of disarmament is to reduce the number of weapons circulating among a country's population and also the threat of violence (continuing or otherwise) to human security.40 From the states perspective, disarmament has the objective of reasserting its monopoly on the legitimate use of force by disarming former combatants, including militias and security forces.41 From the society's perspective, disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration (DDR) is about more than just reducing the use of weapons and facilitating their collection; it is also about creating incentives to be able to change attitudes. How different people perceive the ownership of a weapon in a specific cultural and political context is very important in this respect. In countries with a strong gun culture, guns can be symbols of superiority and prestige, symbols of successful transition into manhood, signifiers or masculinity and machismo, a reliable form of currency used to obtain goods, and a means to security livelihood.42 Here the different definitions of disarmament play an important role. The UN definition of disarmament emphasizes weapons reduction and arms management programs, whereas some analysts and institutes have proposed alternative conceptions including a confidence building mechanism. Disarmament is essential as a confidence-building measure aimed at increasing stability in a very tense, uncertain environment with nervous participants and a wary population.43

1. "Integrated DDR planning processes and structures," in Integrated Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration Standards (IDDRS) (United Nations Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration Resource Center).
2. Alex de Waal, ed., "Post-conflict demilitarization," in Demilitarizing the mind: African agendas for peace and security (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2002), 145.
3. Integrated DDR planning processes and structures, in (IDDRS).
4. Robert Muggah, "Managing Post-Conflict Zones: DDR and Weapons Reduction," in Small Arms Survey Yearbook 2005: Weapons at War (Small Arms Survey, 2005), 284.
5. Batrice Pouligny, The Politics and Anti-Politics of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs, (France: Centre dEtudes et de Recherches Internationales Sciences Po/CNRS, Secrétariat Général de la Défense Nationale and Geneva: Program for Strategic International Security Studies, 2004), 7.
6. Ibid, 10.
7. Nat J. Coletta, Markus Kostner and Ingo Wiederhofer, The transition from war to peace in Sub-Saharan Africa (Washington, DC: World Bank, 1996), 18.
8. UN General Assembly, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, A/60/705 (2006), para. 9, 3-5.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid, para. 29-37, 9-10.
11. Pouligny, The Politics and Anti-Politics of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs, 9.
12. UN General Assembly, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, para. 51, 14.
13. Children Associated with Armed Groups, Child Protection Information Sheet, (New York: UNICEF, May 2006); Definition based on Cape Town Principles and Best Practices, adopted at the Symposium on the Prevention of Recruitment of Children into the Armed Forces and on Demobilization and Social Reintegration of Child Soldiers in Africa, Cape Town South Africa, 27-30 April 1997.
14. Ernest Harsch, "Women: Africa's ignored combatants Gradual progress towards a greater role in DDR," Africa Renewal 19, no. 3 (2005): 17.
15. Susan McKay and Dyan Mazurana, Where Are the Girls? Girls in fighting forces in Northern Uganda, Sierra Leone and Mozambique: Their lives during and after war. (Rights and Democracy, 2004), 18.
16. Harsch, Women: Africa's ignored combatants Gradual progress towards a greater role in DDR, 17.
17. Vanessa Farr, "Women Combatants and the Demobilization Disarmament and Reintegration Process in Rwanda," briefing paper adapted from Ndabaga Association and the Needs of Women Ex-Combatants in Rwanda, a report prepared for UNIFEM (28 August 2004), 1.
18. Macartan Humphreys and Jeremy M. Weinstein, "Demobilization and Reintegration," Journal of Conflict Resolution 51, no. 4 (August 2007): 562-563.
19. UN General Assembly, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, para. 7-8, 3.
20. Harsch, Women: Africa's Ignored Combatants Gradual Progress Towards a greater Role in DDR, 17.
21. Pouligny, The Politics and Anti-Politics of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs, 9.
22. Elise Fredrikke Barth, Peace as Disappointment: The Reintegration of Female Soldiers in Post-Conflict Societies: A Comparative Study from Africa, (International Peace Research Institute (PRIO), August 2002).
23. Pouligny, The Politics and Anti-Politics of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs, 10.
24. UNDP, Practice Note on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of Ex-combatants (2005), 35.
25. Participants, Stakeholders and Strategic Partnership, in IDDRS; and International Peace Academy, A Framework for Lasting Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration of Former Combatants in Crisis Situations (2002), 3-4.
26. Participants, Stakeholders and Strategic Partnership, in IDDRS.
27.UN General Assembly, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, para. 29-37, 9-10.
28. UNDP, Practice Note on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of Ex-combatants, 39.
29. Report of the Secretary General, The Role of United Nations Peacekeeping in Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, S/2000/101 (2000), para. 12, 3.
30. International Peace Academy, A Framework for Lasting Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration of Former Combatants in Crisis Situations, 3-4.
31. UN General Assembly, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, para. 10, 5.
32. Ibid, para. 9(f), 4.
33. de Waal, ed., "Post-conflict demilitarization," in Demilitarizing the mind: African agendas for peace and security, 144.
34. Pouligny, The Politics and Anti-Politics of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs, 14-15.
35. UN General Assembly, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, para. 43, 12.
36. Cliff Bernath and Sarah Martin, Peacekeeping in West Africa (Washington, DC: Refugees International, June 2004), iv.
37. Mark Knight and Alpaslan zerdem, "Guns, Camps and Cash: Disarmament, Demobilization and Reinsertion of former Combatants in Transitions from War to Peace," Journal of Peace Research 41, no. 4 (July 2004), 505.
38. Ibid.
39. UN General Assembly, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, para. 46, 13.
40. Colin Gleichman, Michael Odenwald, Kees Steenken, and Adrian Wilkinson, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration: A Practical Field and Classroom Guide (German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), The Norwegian Defence International Centre, Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, and Swedish National defence College, 2004), 29.
41. de Waal, ed., "Post-conflict Demilitarization," in Demilitarizing the mind: African agendas for peace and security, 144.
42. Joanna Spear, "Disarmament and Demobilization," in Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreements, ed. Stephen John Stedman, Donald Rothchild, and Elizabeth Cousins (Boulder: Lynn Rienner Publishers, 2002), 143.
43. Demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR), (Institute for Security Studies).

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