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Goma, 14 Jan 14

US Ambassador to the DRC, James Swan, on official visit to Rutshuru, recently freed from M23 rebel occupation (copyright: UN-Habitat)
The U.S. Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, James C. Swan, Embassy representatives, and a USAID representative have visited the territory of Rutshuru in North Kivu, which was recently freed from M23 rebel movement occupation. 

During his visit, the Ambassador met with local authorities, community leaders and the land administration to emphasize the importance of restoring state authority in the territory of Rutshuru for peace, reconciliation, and development.  Mr. Justin Mukwanya, Administrator of Rutshuru Territory acknowledged that land disputes are an important problem, which impede the return of internally displaced persons and refugees, community recovery, peace, and development in North Kivu.

Mr. Birate Nzeza, head of the local land administration office praised the support given to its office by USAID through UN-Habitat.  USAID’s support is assisting the provincial government to improve land governance and to comprehensively deal with complex land disputes, mainly those involving large landholders.  In addition, mediation activities are creating an opportunity for cooperation between the government land administration and traditional authorities to protect community land use rights.

The support will allow the land administration to resume activities after 20 months of deadlock because of the war.  Prior to the takeover of M23 in 2012, UN-Habitat had previously supported the land administration office in North Kivu to improve services to community members.

Ambassador Swan recognized the long-term importance of land for the future and the need to tackle land disputes and related issues for returns, peace, socio-economic development, and security.  Since it is not just a legal problem, creativity and dialogue will be required to address it.

USAID has been supporting the UN-Habitat land program in DR Congo since 2011.  The major goal of the program is to contribute to peace and stability in DR Congo through land mediation and to support a comprehensive land reform process. In 2013, 215 land disputes have been registered within the land mediation program and 118 cases have been successfully mitigated through mediation.  A land reform strategic has already been developed with the support of UN-Habitat.

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