The eastern provinces of DRC, particularly North Kivu, have witnessed months of fierce fighting involving Government forces (FARDC) and various militia groups, displacing some 250,000 civilians, on top of 800,000 uprooted in earlier violence. Then last month, the Government and the National Congress for People’s Defence (CNDP), one of the main combatants in the fighting, signed a peace accord. Meanwhile, DRC and Rwanda launched a joint military operation to root out the mainly Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) from the east. A similar endeavour is under way in Haut Uélé province by Congolese and Ugandan forces to end the threat of the Uganda rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in DRC.“The integration of CNDP and other groups into FARDC and the efforts under way to end the lethal presence of FDLR provide a unique prospect for the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Mr. Ban writes in his latest report on the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC, known as MONUC.“However, the situation remains fluid and volatile, and sustained engagement will be required to ensure that emerging gains are consolidated,” he adds.The Secretary-General notes that despite the progress registered so far, both the integration process and the operation against FDLR still face significant hurdles. “Those initiatives have yet to be completed and will require sustained political commitment, adequate financial resources and effective military capacities if they are to succeed.”The voluntary disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, reintegration and rehabilitation (DDRRR) programme for the ex-militia is managed by MONUC. The ex-combatants surrender to joint patrols of the mission and the FARDC, while civilians are repatriated by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).Mr. Ban repeats his call on Security Council members and troop-contributing countries to come forward with the necessary means, including air and intelligence assets and military trainers, to strengthen MONUC, which he says has succeeded in protecting numerous civilians, but is overstretched.“There is a pressing need to mobilize those additional capacities for MONUC in order to help consolidate and build on the gains made in recent weeks,” he states. The Secretary-General also urges the Government and its partners to make security sector reform an “overriding” priority. “Without a thorough transformation of the military and the police, including rigorous vetting of security personnel, allied to the rebuilding of the justice system, the prospects for lasting peace and stability will be greatly diminished, even after the current armed confrontations in the Kivus and Haut Uélé have been brought to an end.”In addition, Mr. Ban calls on the international community to help the Government in weathering the current economic crisis, which poses a “considerable” threat to the country’s stability.In a related development, Nicola Dahrendorf, the UN Special Advisor on sexual violence in the DRC, yesterday presented a comprehensive strategy on combating the scourge to the Congolese Government and national and international partners.“The objective is to bring together all the existing initiatives on sexual violence and to find a way of creating a better platform for common action, in a much more organized and focused way, locally, provincially and nationally. This also applies to donors in terms of where they could channel their funds,” Ms. Dahrendorf said in an interview with the UN mission.The strategy includes four main components relating to tackling impunity; the security forces, security sector reform and sexual violence; protection and prevention; and multi-sector assistance. “This strategy is not the bible, but a living document that people are supposed to be working with, changing, adopting and prioritizing depending on the situation on the ground. There is now a basis to move forward to tackle the problem,” said the Special Advisor.“I think there is more awareness of the issue and more dialogue, and this means that some of the taboos have gone. They have not disappeared completely but the door has been opened.” 2 April 2009Despite recent positive gains in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), including action against armed groups and the integration of rebels into the national military, the situation remains “fluid and volatile” and requires continued international attention, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in a new report.