Dungu, Kinshasa, Geneva, Nairobi - Tens of burned villages; hundreds civilians stabbed or clubbed to death; men, women and children abducted. The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) continues to unleash violence against the people of Haut-Uélé. The intensity of this targeted violence against civilians has prompted the humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to denounce the UN peacekeeping force for its inaction with regards to protecting the population.
More than 50 villages and towns across north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been subjected to the Lord's Resistance Army's murderous attacks since December 25, 2008: Tora, January 21; Taduru, January 24, Awo, January 28, Mangba, January 30; and Ngilima on February 1. Most inhabitants have no choice but to flee to the bush to escape further massacres. There is no one to protect them. They wait in vain for humanitarian assistance that fails to arrive because of insecurity.
Rare eyewitnesses confirm the horror of these massacres. One survivor of the attack on Batandé near Doruma on Christmas Day described his sense of powerlessness against the butchering of his loved ones: "They quickly took them out to the grasslands and systematically executed them. No one was spared: children, infants, pregnant women, the elderly, all killed. More than 60 people."
"The conclusion we've reached day in and day out on the ground, is that the LRA is continuing its unspeakable violence against civilians," explained Marc Poncin, MSF's operational manager for DRC. "Further massacres are likely. UN Security Council Resolution 1856, from this past December 22, makes protection of civilians the priority for the United Nations peacekeepers in DRC. The MONUC must therefore take up its responsibilities, and can no longer continue to be so absent for the inhabitants of Haut-Uélé when they are being systematically attacked."
Shocked by the extreme violence of the LRA, MSF teams do not comprehend the inaction of the "blue berets" to protect the people. During the November 1, 2008, attack on Dungu, the UN blue berets remained holed up in their base. Furthermore, the MONUC contingent has never intervened to protect people in towns under attack, even as the attacks multiplied. The number of UN troops has remained virtually unchanged since their deployment in July, 2008, despite the dramatic deterioration of the situation.
Their activities do not include the evacuation of wounded civilians from recently attacked areas they can reach by helicopter - areas that are inaccessible to humanitarian aid organisations. An example of this includes a case in Duru on 14 January, when a one-year-old toddler was suffering gunshot wounds but was not transported by MONUC to the Dungu hospital for medical treatment, according to those on the helicopter.
The insecurity that reigns across Haut-Uélé renders humanitarian assistance virtually impossible outside the town of Dungu. The risk of surprise attack is too great. Nevertheless, MSF's mobile medical teams have, on several occasions, flown by plane to Faradje, Doruma and Bangadi to bring emergency care to the wounded. Each time, they have only been able to stay on the ground for only a few hours, just enough time to treat the wounded. That is, if they did not arrive too late.
While the death toll from these attacks has reached 900, the number of survivors MSF has been able to treat is merely 17 - all suffered blows or stab wounds.
"In Faradje, when we arrived two days after the attack, we found only four wounded," recounted Mathieu Bichet, the team's doctor. "They were so gravely hurt that they had certainly been left for dead."
More than 140 people were assassinated in that attack.
MSF's Haut-Uélé operations are based in Dungu. MSF provides emergency care and evacuations of severely wounded to the Dungu hospital. It also supports health centres in Doruma, Bangadi, Faradje, Ngilima and Li-May. Mobile clinics offer care to displaced populations in the regions of Dungu. The MSF team is made up of six international and 25 Congolese staff.