Life under threat: One family's experience - a testimony

The Mai would come and get you at any time, even in the middle of the night. There was no time for hesitating once they arrived, because if you loitered just a bit, the roof of your house would be on fire before you were out and you would just burn inside. I saw three women die like that, reduced to ashes inside their houses.
Ten years ago I was living in B., near Shabunda, South Kivu, where I am from. In 1997, the first war led by Kabila broke out in the area. We could see Rwandan refugees fleeing; the Rwandan Tutsi military were looking for them and massacring them. They would kill men and women - they would put them in a single file and the soldiers would shoot at them. I saw it with my own eyes, especially towards Ulindi river where thousands and thousands of people fell. During the massacre of the Rwandan Hutu refugees, we all had a hard time. One day, the military shot at a refugee near my house, and asked a young Congolese to take the cadaver and get rid of it - as the young man protested, the military took him by the feet and dropped him in a big latrine pit. He died, because the latrine was almost already full. Unfortunately after this war, another started in 1998. Soon after, a group of Congolese Mai Mai militias arrived from the north, saying that they were coming to protect us against the RCD (Rassemblement Congolais pour le Democratie); they were more than a hundred men, and amongst them, there were Rwandan Hutus and ex-FAR soldiers. The ex-FAR searched all the houses, looking for Tutsi refugees. When they found them, they would kill them in public after having tortured them. They told us that any Congolese suspected of assisting a Tutsi would be submitted to the same punishment.We ourselves, we had nothing to say - we were at their mercy. Then the Mai Mai started to forcibly recruit people from the area. Sometimes, they would make us go with them to the forest, there we would either have to work their fields, dig coltan, or they would use us as porters. They would come and get you at any time, even in the middle of the night. There was no time for hesitating once they arrived, because if you loitered just a bit, the roof of your house would be on fire before you were out and you would just burn inside. I saw three women die like that, reduced to ashes inside their houses. One day, the Mai Mai took my brother's wife. He protested, but the Mai Mai crudely replied: "if we find a bicycle, we just ride it and you have nothing to say". After whipping him, they left with his wife. Two days later they came back - "here is your bicycle", they told him, giving him his wife back. The war was following me - a few days after I had reached another village, the Mai Mai attacked this village and again, I had to hide in the forest for several days.
Another time, in 1999, my mother-in-law went out to the fields to get cassava. She was late, and we were wondering where she was. Then, a woman passed by and told us that she had heard her screaming a little further away.We went for her - we only found her cadaver. She had been decapitated and her body had been cut into pieces. A Mai Mai showed up while I was collecting the pieces of my mother in law's body - he told me that they had killed her because her presence was annoying them, and he forbade me to remove her remnants. One hour later the Mai Mai came and shot at our house. We fled; as we tried to cross the river, my son slipped and drowned - he was eleven years old. After we buried him, we continued to flee through the forest. One day, as my wife and five of my children had gone out for wood, the Mai Mai took me and my four other children as hostages. They took us to the forest, and had us cultivating and transporting material for them - especially the cartridges and ammunitions that were arriving by plane. There were thousands of us; the Mai Mai were taking people hostage from each village we would pass through when the RCD army was advancing so that nobody could help the RCD soldiers to identify the Mai Mai's position. The whole time I was with the Mai Mai they demanded that each person bring them a box of coltan per week. If you had no coltan you simply had to manage to find some. but it was difficult because we had no shovels to dig with. I saw gruesome punishments during that time: people tied up to red ants' nests, eaten alive by these carnivorous insects; other people were whipped to death. and when you were sick, you only had access to medicinal plants - whilst I was as a hostage with the Mai Mai I never even saw an aspirin !!! On the 5th of October, 2001, we heard shooting and mortars coming closer to our position: the RCD was advancing. For us it was good news; it meant that we would finally be reunited with our families.When RCD soldiers met us in the forest, they told us that we could go back to our villages and I immediately headed for Shabunda. There I heard that my family was in another village, more than a hundred kilometres away, so I started walking. I arrived in B. in November 2001. There, the war between RCD and Mai Mai was also raging. Once more, I fled to the forest; but that time I was alone, because I had lost track of my children in Shabunda. The war was following me - a few days after I had reached another village, the Mai Mai attacked this village and again, I had to hide in the forest for several days. In the meantime, I heard that my wife and children were in Goma, so when I spotted a plane from the International Committee of the Red Cross on the ground, on my way back to the village, I went to explain my situation to the Red Cross workers and they accepted to bring me back to Goma. There I finally found my wife and five of my children. What a celebration it was! Just a few days later, in January 2002, the volcano erupted in Goma. Once again, we were forced to flee. Fortunately our house did not disappear under the lava flow. Eventually we went back to Goma, and I was lucky to find a job and send my children back to school. but I still have no news of the other four. When I hear about what is still happening around Shabunda, I fear that they may have once again fallen into the hands of the Mai Mai.