DRC 2001: Tensions remain, violence continues

© Remco Bohle Click on image for larger version. Between the months of August and December of the average 136 children monthly admitted in the MSF Therapeutic Feeding Centre, 22,8% were currently displaced or refugees. This figure didn't even include those who, without being literally displaced, were forced to go often to the bush for a few days or a few hours, because of the insecurity.
"At the beginning of January a new round of violent clashes, following those of early 2000 between the Hema and Lendu tribes, restarted in Ituri district. Mainly rooted in a conflict over land, and further fuelled by some of the military controlling eastern DRC, the conflict between the two ethnic groups had already cost the lives of thousands and displaced some 150,000 people at the beginning of 2000. "In January 2001 at least 200 civilians were killed with machetes. Whilst carrying out an assessment mission, in April, six workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross were found dead and mutilated by machetes next to their burnt out cars. The team consisted of two expatriates and four Congolese workers. "Meanwhile, the tensions in the Kivus remained on-going. In the north clashes between the Rwandan army and its RCD allies, the "Interahamwe" and the Mai Mai continued spilling over to the population. Pillaging, harassment, torture and massacres forced more people to flee their villages time after time. Between the months of August and December of the average 136 children monthly admitted in the MSF Therapeutic Feeding Centre, 22,8% were currently displaced or refugees. This figure didn't even include those who, without being literally displaced, were forced to go often to the bush for a few days or a few hours, because of the insecurity. "In Shabunda area several attacks on villages by Interahamwe and Congolese Mai Mai militias caused the displacement of a thousand people, some of them bullet-wounded." ETHNIC STRIFE IN ITURI DISTRICT Nurse "In the beginning of 2001 we carried out an exploratory mission in Bunia, north of the eastern DRC, where a conflict between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups was, and still is, raging. Ten kms from Bunia we bumped into a group of people carrying machetes, spears, and maces; they stopped us on the road, and they asked us where we were going. We got very scared because it was a big group, they were hardly talking to us, they were very well armed... We talked with their chief and we explained our objectives - finally, he accepted that we could continue our trip. © Sven Torfinn Click on image for larger version. "We finally managed to open a project in Bunia, which lasted three months; only a few weeks after the project was closed, six ICRC workers were massacred - among whom someone I had studied with. Everybody was very shocked because it could have been any NGO, and still could be, victim of this.
"In B. , which is a Hema village, we found around twenty seriously wounded people. Just before we arrived there had been a fight between Hema and Lendu - the people had almost no medical assistance. We therefore gave them medicines, and we even helped to treat one of the wounded. We spent the night there. The next day we had a meeting with the local authorities, and we explained that we wanted to go to J. , in Lendu territory. That was the hard part: they didn't want us to go to the Lendu, who were harming them, killing them and who wanted to exterminate them. "One day the wounded had told us, there had been a massacre of forty people who were out in the field in the middle of the day. After many discussions they finally accepted that we go to Lendu territory; and they even asked us to transmit a message of peace to the Lendu, to ask them to cease hostilities, because the population was suffering from the fighting. "When we arrived in J. hospital we found around ten seriously wounded people who told us the same story as the Hema. To the Lendu as well, we gave medicines and medical support; and we had a meeting with the community leaders. At the end of the meeting, they asked us to transmit the same message as the Hema. "We finally managed to open a project in Bunia, which lasted three months; only a few weeks after the project was closed, six ICRC workers were massacred - among whom someone I had studied with. Everybody was very shocked because it could have been any NGO, and still could be, victim of this. ON-GOING VIOLENCE IN THE KIVUS Patient, displaced and tortured by the Interahamwe (North Kivu) "I'd been at the Nutritional Centre for three weeks with my three year-old son. His mother was at home with our six other children, in N. , where we have been displaced for three months because of Interahamwe attacks. "One night the Interahamwe arrived in our village and surrounded it There was a large number of them, they looted everything in the village. They entered our house and they took all our possessions, our animals, our clothes - we were completely naked. Then, so that we would give them our money, they tortured us. They beat us, my wife and me, with the butt of their rifles; they kicked us, and they slapped us too. "The Interahamwe knows exactly what is available in the villages, and where the resources are. They had spies who watched the Rwandan military; the population recognizes them, but we were not allowed to say they were there, because if we do, they put "a padlock on the mouth" - that is, they decapitate us. "The population feels constantly threatened. After this attack we resisted one month; then the Interahamwe came back to attack us, and many neighbours were decapitated. It is only then that we decided to leave. "Since we have arrived in N. , my wife and I work in someone else's field, while the children stay at home; it gives us an income of 300 Congolese Francs a day (Footnote13), which enables us to pay for the rent of the house, an old house about to fall apart. In the evening, after work, I go to buy some food, but we don't have enough money to eat sufficiently. We try to have at least one meal a day - mainly colcase and cabbage. We don't easily have access to health care; there is a health centre at N. , but you need money - if you are very sick, the nurses accept to treat you, but only if you cultivate their field in exchange. "Since I've been here at the Nutritional Centre there has been an attack in N. The Interahamwe persist; the situation will remain the same, I have no hope for the future. I don't even think about the possibility of a better life." Patient, raped by the Mai Mai (Shabunda) "I was caught by seven Mai Mai in January 2001, north of B. , whilst I was on my way to visit my sister. "One after the other, the men raped me; they even used wooden sticks to torture me. They left me in agony, lying in my blood - some people passing by took me back to the village. Nurses from the local Red Cross examined me, but as I had no money to pay, they didn't give me any treatment; yet I was suffering dreadfully, and I had a terrible haemorrhage. "Because of insecurity and frequent Mai Mai attacks, I had to move to Shabunda; there, I was examined by the nurse of the hospital, who said that I needed surgery. Unfortunately, this intervention costs fifty US dollars, and I am not able to pay for it. As for my husband and my three children, they have been abducted by the Mai Mai and they are still in their hands."