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Burundi, Rwanda, and Congolese rebel forces have each organized civilians into paramilitary forces in the regional war in Central Africa. Rwanda and its Congolese ally, the rebel Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) have created Local Defense Forces, and Burundi has established the Guardians of the Peace.4

By establishing paramilitary forces Burundi, Rwanda, and the RCD shift part of the burden of monitoring and defending the local population onto the people themselves. They increase the numbers of combatants at minimal cost: participants are unpaid and ordinarily continue to live at home. Purportedly established to protect local communities, the forces are sometimes used to patrol far from home and even participate in combat to supplement regular forces. Participants are typically trained for three months or less, making their deaths or injury in combat less costly than casualties among more highly trained regular forces. Frequently participants in these forces are deployed in the front ranks in combat and bear the brunt of losses.

Burundi, Rwanda, and the RCD ordinarily seek to incorporate former rebels or potential rebel sympathizers into the forces in hopes of controlling their daily activities and winning-and testing-their loyalty.

The use of paramilitaries permits Burundi and Rwanda to escape the international attention that would be drawn to an expansion of their regular military forces. They can thus continue to present themselves as intent on peace while actually preparing for further war. The low costs involved do not add substantially to the military budget and hence are less likely to draw international criticism.

4 See Human Rights Watch Short Reports, "Rwanda: The Search for Security and Human Rights Abuses," Vol. 12, no. 1(A), April 2000; and Democratic Republic of the Congo, "Reluctant Recruits: Children and Adults Forcibly Recruited for Military Service in North Kivu," Vol. 13, no. 3(A), May 2001.

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