DRC: Still trapped in the bush?

IV. DRC: Still trapped in the bush?

"We were told that...there would be repercussions. They [the Mai-Mai] encircled us to prevent us from fleeing." July 2005, Female, 31 yrs "Recently, we heard it was possible to go to the Government area and although we were afraid because we don't have an election card, we tried....When we were still in the bush we met FARDC military. They yelled at us that we were Mai-Mai. I put my hands up, but my wife, who was really scared, tried to flee. They shot at her. The bullet went into her leg. We were together with our children, who were also scared, and they fled." December 2005, Male

While access by MSF to areas of military operation has been refused on the grounds of security, we have no idea how many people have been willing to take the risk of travelling to those zones controlled by the Government. Threatened and attacked by the Mai-Mai, they also fear arrest and violence by the military - particularly if they do not have an electoral registration card. Many may remain trapped in the bush still subject to violence and abuse.

IV.1 Destruction and destitution

Many people told MSF of how they were consistently extorted, robbed and looted wherever they were: the village, the field or the bush: each time they managed to re-establish their livelihoods, they were forced to start again from zero. As recently as last year, whenever one group withdrew from confrontation between Mai-Mai and military, the other group would loot and pillage the belongings of any departed families - taking everything from food to door posts and stripping them bare of the very basics.

Apart from these confrontations, voluntary and involuntary 'contributions' towards the up-keep of the Mai-Mai also increasingly spiraled to the point where visiting Mai-Mai (whether to the village, the field or the bush), simply took whatever they saw and wanted, whether pigs and poultry, cooking pots or sleeping mats. Those who were relatively well-off might be further subject to arson, with any remaining merchandise of traders or belongings of village chiefs being subsequently set alight.

"In March I went to sell peanuts in the military controlled-zone when they arrested me for 2 days. They thought I was a spy. When I was free to return, I was then arrested by the Mai-Mai." Male, 40 yrs

In April 2004, the local people around and to the north of Mitwaba were forbidden by both the Mai-Mai and the military from freely circulating and moving from an area controlled by one party to that controlled by another, each group fearing infiltration. Restrictions on movements were similarly imposed on civilians in and around Dubie with merchants complaining of harassment and arrest. Lack of trade meant lack of access to food and other essential items.

Increasingly, the displaced tell us, the Mai-Mai resorted to burning whole villages, whether following combat with the military or not. For many, this was often a decisive trigger to population flight - leaving most people with few belongings with which they could return to their homes.

IV.2 Violence and intimidation "There are both young and old among the Mai-Mai [Bubangos], but particularly the young. They kidnap the young and force them to enter into their group. If they refuse, they die." Male, 46 yrs

The displaced reported widespread psychological threat and physical violence whether in the villages, the fields or the bush. Recruitment into the ranks of the Mai-Mai became involuntary. Families that refused, ran the risk of beatings or death - so sons, husbands and uncles went instead to save the family 'honour' - and their own lives.

Some of the displaced have also mentioned both Mai-Mai and military raping villagers in the fields and the bush. Forced marriages were systematically reported in the zone around Dubie where a token amount, either in-cash or in-kind, had been paid for the bride.

The displaced commonly mentioned other forms of violence affecting men, women and children. If the performance of a new recruit was bad for example, then often the Mai-Mai would avenge themselves by killing a family or other village member - burning them alive.

Just the very presence of the Mai-Mai was enough to create dread and terror every time they arrived. Whatever may have happened in the Mai-Mai controlled zones, there is a real sense of fear among the IDPs.