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IRIN Congo English 2012

DRC: Reactions to ICC acquittal of militia leader

BUNIA, 19 December 2012 (IRIN) - In its second-ever verdict, the International Criminal Court (ICC), on 18 December, acquitted former militia leader Mathieu Ngudjolo [Chui] of war crimes and crimes against humanity relating to a 2003 massacre in Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) northeastern Ituri District. 

Ordering the immediate release of Ngudjolo, ICC judges said the prosecution - which has 30 days to appeal the ruling - had failed to establish beyond reasonable doubt that he had been in command of fighters from the Lendu community who attacked the village of Bogoro on 24 February 2003.

Before delivering the verdict, presiding judge Bruno Cotte said that "declaring an accused person not guilty does not mean the Chamber declares him innocent".

The French judge stressed that this decision "does not in any way deny the suffering of the population on that day". IRIN has collected reactions from Bunia, the main town in Ituri, where a 1999-2005 conflict between the Lendu and Hema communities caused tens of thousands of deaths and massive displacement: http://www.irinnews.org/In-Depth/70733/33/Ituri-in-Eastern-DRC

Gaby, bartender:  "We are satisfied because most thought that the court is for Africans and particularly for the Congolese. [But] justice is not fair. [Hema militia leader] Thomas Lubanga was convicted in March of recruiting child soldiers [http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95073]. We thought Ngudjolo would also be convicted. We are surprised he was acquitted."

Chantale, maid: "I think this decision is unfair because he destroyed our region. He should remain in prison. His name was mentioned a lot in the massacres of 2002 and 2003."

Lendu, resident: "There is no evidence against him, so he's right. This judgment is valid." Richard, taxi driver: "For me, it is the ICC that has all the power - to arrest, convict, set free. If Ngudjolo is being released, I applaud that."

Mateso, storekeeper: "Nobody has seen the killings in Bogoro. The government arrested him on the basis of hearsay. Luckily, God acted and freed him. We are thankful for that and expect Ngudjolo to return so that we can build the country together."

Dieudonné, technician: "Many people who are at the Hague trial talk about what happened in Ituri, yet they have not experienced, and do not know, the truth. It's understandable that they lack evidence to convict Ngudjolo."

Bossa Me Mitterrand, human rights activist with the NGO Justice Plus: "We recommend the prosecutor file an appeal. We ask the new prosecutor [Fatou Bensouda, who replaced Luis Moreno-Ocampo earlier in 2012] to extend the investigations because we believe that Thomas Lubanga, Germain Katanga [another Lendu leader, still on trial at the ICC] and others are only small fry and there are big fish that are still at large. There are people in neighboring countries that have trained, funded and equipped these rebels, but until now nobody has been prosecuted for this. The prosecutor should not restrict himself to those who carried out their orders."

Human Rights Watch: Mitterrand's view is echoed by a statement Human Rights Watch (HRW) released after the acquittal. [ http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/12/18/icc-congolese-rebel-leader-acquitted-court-s-second-case ] The ICC "should re-energize efforts to prosecute others for atrocities in the DRC," it said. "The acquittal of Ngudjolo leaves the victims of Bogoro and other massacres by his forces without justice for their suffering," said Géraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, HRW international justice advocacy director.

  "The ICC prosecutor needs to strengthen its investigations of those responsible for grave crimes in Ituri, including high-ranking officials in DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda who supported the armed groups fighting there," she added.

rp/cb/am/rz [END] This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=97079




Analysis: Seeking civilian and military solutions in the DRC

KAMPALA, 18 December 2012 (IRIN) - Even as they continue to work toward a negotiated solution to the crisis in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the leaders of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) are planning to deploy a 4,000-strong "neutral force" to the region to improve its security. Yet regional analysts and stakeholders are at odds over the force's composition and mandate.

Conflict in the region has escalated since April, when rebels known as M23 [ http://www.irinnews.org/report/95715/DRC-Understanding-armed-group-M23 ] mutinied from DRC's national army (FARDC). An estimated half a million people have since been displaced in North Kivu Province, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The ICGLR [ https://icglr.org/index.php ] peace talks, which kicked off on 9 December, were scheduled to end on 18 December, but have been extended to 31 December due to the limited progress made. At the fifth extraordinary summit in Uganda's capital, Kampala, on 24 November, ICGLR leaders called on the DRC government to negotiate with M23. They also adopted the final concept of the operation and deployment of a Neutral International Force to combat "negative forces" in the region.

"It's a dual process. We see the ongoing discussions as the best opportunity to end the current situation in eastern DRC. But basing on the past history, where peace agreements have been signed and not honoured, the member states are not taking any chances," Stephen Singo Mwachofi, ICGLR peace and security programme officer, told IRIN.

Analysts are sceptical about the ability of the talks to bring lasting peace. "The Congolese government avoided those talks for six months and was forced to have them because of the fall of Goma [to M23 in November]. Given the circumstances and the fact that the Congolese government was cornered and had no alternative, these talks will not lead to a genuine peace agreement," Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa project director for the think tank International Crisis Group (ICG) [ http://www.icg.org/ ], told IRIN via email.

"Like in 2009 [when DRC reached a negotiated settlement with CNDP [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/83661/DRC-Kivus-move-closer-to-peace-but-risks-remain ], M23's predecessor], if the outcome of those talks is a new peace deal with an armed group, it will not be signed in good faith by both parties, and it will pose a serious problem of impunity and implementation."

What will the force look like?

According to Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, spokesperson of the Uganda-mediated peace talks, the neutral force will target M23, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and Mai Mai militias, as well as the Ugandan armed groups the Allied Democratic Force (ADF) and Lord's Resistance Army. It will be based in Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu.

"All the stages, concepts of operation and agreements on the neutral force are done," he said.

James Mugume, permanent secretary in Uganda's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told IRIN that the African Union (AU) had approved the force, and the ICGLR was engaged in discussions with the UN Security Council for UN approval.

Despite urgent calls for ICGLR member states and other African countries to contribute the required 4,000 troops, only Tanzania - under the ICGLR, which is to lead the mission - and Zimbabwe - under the Southern African Development Community [ http://www.sadc.int/ ] - have offered to provide them.

"The mission can succeed, depending on troops and logistics. We urge the member states and African countries to contribute troops. If the countries fail to raise the necessary numbers, the mission will fail," said Mwachofi.

At the Kampala summit, DRC, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda were excluded from contributing troops for the force. DRC and Uganda were accused by a UN Group of Experts report of supporting M23, charges both deny.

"The decision on who should or should not deploy came out of consensus. Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, for being neighbours and for having 'perceived interests', it was agreed they should not deploy," Ankunda, said.

"The countries that were previously involved in what was called 'the first African world war' in the late 1990s - Chad, Zimbabwe, Angola, Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda and Namibia - should not be once again in DRC," said the ICG's Vircoulon. "This would bring bad [back?] the past back when two African camps were fighting each other in the DRC... Being party and judge of the conflict is a contradiction in itself."

Challenges

The force will require US$100 million, but has so far only received $20 million from the DRC government; South Africa has pledged logistical support.

"We need material support in terms of equipment, helicopters, experts and support for follow-up mechanisms if the agreement is signed," said ICGLR's Mwachofi. "We call [on the] international community to facilitate dialogue and support the neutral force.

"The action taken and statements issued by the international community must weigh whether it complements the ICGLR process instead of inflaming on what is going on," he added. "Now that we have the dialogue, which is ongoing, they should issue statements that encourage and support the process."

"Ideally, it ought to be funded by the AU and regional organizations. However, history shows that African governments are never prepared to put money into such things. It then boils down to the so-called international community putting up the money, as they have done in Somalia," Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, a political scientist and senior research fellow at the Makerere Institute of Social Research, told IRIN. "It would be good if they [the international community] put up the money and then pulled back and refrained from interfering and trying to direct, control or manipulate the process."

Regional analysts warn that, unless care is put into the force's timing, mandate and operations, it could backfire and worsen the crisis.

"There are risks related to an offensive posture. The best way to mitigate those risks is to have very disciplined force, good coordination and have soldiers able to communicate with the population. The terms of the mission must be clear for everybody, the timing and the rules of engagement too," said Vircoulon.

Political process

Angelo Izama, a political affairs analyst at the US-based Open Society Foundation [ http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/ ], cautioned that the political process must not be abandoned. "A regional force must come out of a political agenda for the east of Congo, not simply out of a response to the security situation there. Unless political imperatives are relied upon to design an intelligent use of external force in the east, it will backfire. This has been the problem behind the episodic outbreaks of violence in that area, where force has been traded by local militias, regional armies and the international UN-mandated deployments," he said.

"Military intervention is costly in blood and treasure, more volatile and therefore less sustainable, and attracts negative gains in relations with Congo and its neighbours and the international community," he added. "DRC's stability should remain an issue for its domestic political actors and that of its immediate neighbours. Other countries can act as interested observers and underwrite a negotiated settlement that arises out of the principled engagement of the most affected stakeholders."

UN's role

The entry of a neutral force will also have implications for the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) [ http://monusco.unmissions.org/ ], which has been criticized for failing to prevent M23's capture of Goma and for perceived failures in protecting civilians.

"This [neutral] force will have to demonstrate that it can do better than MONUSCO as a deterrent for the armed groups," said ICG's Vircoulon.

Ankunda said the neutral force would be keen to work with MONUSCO and FARDC on coordination, support and information-sharing.

"We call for the change of MONUSCO's mandate from peacekeeping to enforcement. We call for the amendment of chapter seven of the UN charter so that MONUSCO can support the neutral force to fight and eliminate the negative forces," ICGLR's Mwachofi told IRIN.

"It would be good to demarcate clearly what its [MONUSCO's] role and mandate are as opposed to those of the neutral force," said Makerere's Golooba-Mutebi.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous told journalists on 7 December that the UN Security Council had "reacted with considerable interest" to proposed responses to the conflict - including the idea of a neutral force - and would review the ICGLR proposal in terms of how it can help advance the MONUSCO's peacekeeping mandate. He added that the UN had responded to a request from Uganda for technical help with the ongoing peace talks in Kampala.

The UN is embarking on a "strategic review" of its engagement in DRC, including MONUSCO's configuration.

Analyst Izama stressed that without political reform in DRC, peace would remain a pipe dream. "Legitimate local administrations which carry a local mandate are the best hope for peace," he said. "The first thing is to [draw up] a roadmap to local elections that clearly states its goal: the legitimization of local leaders with supervision from Kinshasa and with support from regional and international actors. The second is to guarantee a demilitarized process with severe sanctions for spoilers - this is where a regional force with international support can come in," he added.

so/kr/rz [END] This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=97075



DRC: Surge in sexual violence in North Kivu

MINOVA, 6 December 2012 (IRIN) - Sexual violence is on the rise as armed groups continue to move across the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu Province, officials say.

Since mid-November, the provincial capital, Goma, has been the scene of fighting that saw rebel group M23 [ http://www.irinnews.org/report/95715/DRC-Understanding-armed-group-M23 ] take control of the city; following negotiations with neighbouring countries, M23 relinquished control of the city on 1 December, and the Congolese national army, FARDC, is back in charge.

Days after FARDC troops arrived in Minova, 54 km southwest of Goma, in late November, local women began to show up at local hospitals with injuries sustained from rape.

UNICEF reported on 4 December that the  Minova Hospital had recorded 72 cases of rape [ http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/UNICEF%20Democratic%20Republic%20of%20the%20Congo%20Flash%20Report%208.pdf   ] since the latest wave of violence started. The organization has provided the hospital with four post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) kits (equivalent to a total of 200 doses), used to prevent HIV infection following exposure to the virus.

UN human rights investigators in Goma have been unable to confirm allegations of sexual violence due to insecurity, according to a UN source not authorized to speak to the media. NGOs have also struggled with access.

"There are more than 10 [FARDC] battalions here and they are raping the women," said Nestor Bulumbe, who has worked as a medical professional there for 17 years.

Bulumbe's Kalere clinic alone has attended to 26 women, some of whom were gang-raped. His wife said that she has attended the funeral of an 80-year old woman who was raped by three men and died as a result.

"By day, they [the soldiers] raped them in the fields and by night they entered their houses. There is no discipline; smoking hemp, drinking, behaving very badly,"  he said of the soldiers, adding of the many armed groups that had come through the town in the past 17 years,  the FARDC "are the worst". 

Earlier in the year, rights group Human Rights Watch [ http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/09/11/dr-congo-m23-rebels-committing-war-crimes ] accused M23 of committing a number of war crimes, including rapes.

According to a 4 December report  [ http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/North%20Kivu%20Situation%20Report%20No%2015%2C%204%20December%202012.pdf ]  by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, reports of serious protection incidents in the region have continued, including lootings, rapes, summary executions and recruitment of children: "On the night of 1-2 December,  violent looting, including rape, by armed men  occurred in Mugunga III IDP camp [west of Goma],  highlighting the extremely worrying humanitarian and protection situation in North Kivu."
 
The report notes that one NGO treated 12 survivors of rapes that occurred that night.

Yawo Douvon, the country director of the  international NGO CARE in the DRC, said: "Reports from our field staff and partners show a rising number of cases especially in those areas that have experienced armed clashes. Many of these cases of rape and violence cannot be treated because of the deteriorating security situation."

In Goma, funding and supplies have not been reaching the hospitals.

"The situation is complex and confusing... the operating environment is currently not safe for humanitarian aid workers," said Douvon on 29 November, two days before the M23 officially pulled out of the capital as urged by recent peace talks. 

According to UN figures, at least 140,000 people have been newly displaced by recent violence in and around Goma; this number is in addition to the estimated 841,000 people who were already displaced before.

In a  21 November statement [ http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/USG_ERC%20Valerie%20Amos%20Statement%20on%20DRC%2021%20November%202012.pdf  ], the UN's under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and  emergency relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, expressed concern at the plight of civilians fleeing the violence in and around Goma and noted that, "Insecurity is preventing the delivery of the most basic  humanitarian assistance that people need and many of the communities hosting them are already overstretched."

jh/aw/kr [END] This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=96981


DRC: Humanitarian Barbara Shenstone on the cost of the Goma crisis

KINSHASA, 30 November 2012 (IRIN) - The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) estimates that 140,000 people have been forced to flee battles taking place in and around the eastern city of Goma since November 15.
 
The crisis has been escalating: Rebel group M23 took control of Goma on 20 November [ http://www.irinnews.org/report/96833/DRC-Fall-of-Goma-puts-200-000-children-at-risk ], and surrounding communities are finding themselves caught between government and armed forces [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/96899/DRC-Civilian-population-in-Masisi-at-risk ].
 
The upsurge in fighting has added to what OCHA describes as the country's already monumental humanitarian needs. In the past few days, donors have stepped up their response to aid agencies' appeal for the DRC 2012 humanitarian action plan.
 
IRIN spoke to Barbara Shenstone, head of OCHA's DRC office, about the needs and challenges ahead.
 
Q: The DRC appeal has been underfunded. Would you describe this as a neglected crisis?
 
A: Today we are about 60 percent funded in the appeal. The humanitarian community asked for US$791 million this year. This is a huge country - an ocean of need - and it is seen somewhat as a lost or forgotten emergency. It doesn't have the same weight as other violent conflagrations, such as Syria or Afghanistan, or the same strategic interest for many countries.
 
That being said, the needs are there. This country has some of the worst indicators in terms of child welfare, malnutrition, conflict-related violence and food security. It has terrible diseases: Ebola, cholera, etc.
 
Right now, in the east, this isn't a typical humanitarian crisis where something terrible happens like an earthquake or a war [that quickly] is over and you rebuild. This is a chronic crisis. We have a flare-up of the crisis around Goma, with the movements of the rebel group the M23 and their conflict with the Congolese army, and all the other armed groups are moving around and taking advantage. It's about politics, control of natural resources, and the place or influence that certain minority groups should have in the state. It's a complex emergency, and that's hard to make a case for in a world of sound bites. This place is far away and difficult to talk about, but it's very real.
 
Q: How has the situation worsened since the attack on Goma?
 
A: Since the attack on Goma, around 140,000 people have suddenly been displaced. Many of them had already fled a crisis previously and were in some makeshift arrangement with host families or in a makeshift camp. These communities are in distress, trying to find a place where they might be moderately safe.
 
North Kivu already had 800,000 people displaced. These 140,000 include some of those 800,000 and new populations. Their living conditions will deteriorate very quickly if they don't have latrines, water, food and emergency health care.
 
Q: The closure of the Goma airport is an immediate challenge. What would it take to open it again?
 
A: Most of the aid in terms of food and medical supplies actually comes by road, via Rwanda, and that border is still open. But the airport is important for some vital medical supplies and, of course, for commercial flights too. For a city of one million people not to have an airport in this day and age is pretty serious.
 
The M23 are in position around the airport, and the MONUSCO [the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC] troops are in the airport. OCHA has had formal discussions with the M23 to ask them to let the airport open. M23 has expressed its willingness to open it, and is discussing modalities with the UN [forces]. I think it's been slightly complicated by the arrangement that was reached in Kampala, where the possibility of a small international force being stationed there was proposed. That seems to have stalled the opening. We ask all the parties to try to open the airport as soon as possible.
 
Q: What has it been like to deal with M23?
 
A: We have to deal with the M23. We asked them to let NGOs have access to populations in distress, not to harass humanitarian workers or the population, and to let people move towards aid and safety when they need to.
 
M23 has been quite straightforward in talking to us. That doesn't mean any armed group in this part of the world are angels or fully in control of itself. There are particular concerns when an area changes hands and there is void of authority. Those are very high-risk times, when there is a high risk of people settling scores and targeting minorities.
 
Q: Aid workers came under attack at several locations after the fall of Goma, when protests against MONUSCO took place. Are they still being targeted?
 
A: There was some violence in Kisangani - and there was complex violence in Bunia - related to disappointment and fury over the fall of Goma. International staff were identified and chased out of their houses. Private houses were looted and damaged, and cars were wrecked. In Bunia, it seems this may have been related to other local political events. In other places, violence against expatriates seems to have been quite limited.
 
But humanitarians in eastern Congo are often in danger. In North Kivu in the last six months, there have been 162 incidents recorded where NGOs were attacked on the road or had their goods stolen.

Q. Has there been an upsurge of this in the last two weeks?

A. No. The real immediate danger NGOs face now is being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time - the same danger the population faces.
 
Q: The UN system is pursuing a threefold strategy in North Kivu that includes support for internally displaced persons to go home voluntarily. Will the UN also seek to boost development aid to help these people become self sufficient? 
 
A: The strategy now is to reorient money that's in the system. People are unlikely to go back to Kayarucinya, for instance, so that funding can be moved to where the needs are. That's OK for the short term, but in the medium and long term there is definitely concern. There has been damage to schools and clinics; there are people who have lost everything they own or have had crops stolen. Projects that are underway will likely use up their resources more quickly than anticipated. There have been discussions with donors, and some have already been very generous. I believe the United Kingdom is going to provide extra aid, and possibly the Americans, the Dutch and the EU.
 
Q: It must be difficult to carry on development programmes right now.
 
A: At the moment it's impossible to work on a lot of the development programmes. You can't build roads in Masisi or Rutshuru now. You can't get the materials in, and you can't go there as it wouldn't be safe.
 
Q: A few years ago after the rebel leader Laurent Nkunda had taken control of much of Rutshuru territory, he ordered displaced people to go home. Do you see M23 doing the same thing?
 
A: It's true that the M23 generally doesn't think that camps are a good idea. But as the humanitarian community, we would discourage them from any attempt to forcibly move people. It's not right. You could be forcing people into danger - many of the displaced have fled violence by other armed groups and inter-ethnic violence.
 
Q: How do you see the prospects for peace in these peoples' home areas over the next few months?
 
A: The situation could be very volatile. If the M23 withdraws to a certain area, they will still control that area and will still have alliances. Other groups may see that making a rebellion pays off. It very much depends on whatever agreement is reached. There is a possibility of heightened tensions between communities.
 
This country has such deep and intractable problems that, to bring hope, those problems have to be addressed. Otherwise agreements will be superficial and the situation will remain volatile.
 
Q: Does that mean there has to be an inclusive dialogue with all the communities and possibly the other armed actors across North Kivu?
 
A: It's not my place to speculate about what the political solutions are. But clearly there are a lot of interests and a lot of weapons, and short-term truces are not going to fix this. Truces are welcome, but to bring a peace to eastern Congo that allows people to have hopes and make plans we need something much more profound.

nl/rz [END] This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=96945


DRC: Growing humanitarian needs in Goma

GOMA, 28 November 2012 (IRIN) - When clashes broke out on 22 November between the M23 rebels and government-allied Mai Mai militias in the town of Sake, near the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) border with Rwanda, 6,000 people fled down a dead-end road to Nzulo Village on the edge of Lake Kivu. By the following day, they were once again living in a war; M23 soldiers had arrived and were forcing the young men to help them build their camp on a nearby hilltop.

The humanitarian crisis is gathering pace as thousands flee either fighting, the prospect of fighting, or the prospect of angry troops retreating every day.

In North Kivu's provincial capital, Goma, Oxfam's humanitarian coordinator Tariq Riebl describes conditions as "grim". According to an Oxfam assessment, people are living with very little shelter, food or water: "There are reports that the prices of staple foods have risen in recent days, and although food may be available in the markets many people are unable to afford it."

After the rebels took control of Goma on 20 November, clean water was the primary concern - many people were drinking from the lake, as power to the city's water pump was cut during the fight. Suspected cholera cases are being treated and NGOs including the International Committee of the Red Cross and Solidarités International are providing water purification stations.

Following negotiations with regional leaders under the auspices of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region [ http://www.irinnews.org/report/96844/DRC-Paths-to-peace-in-the-Kivus ], M23 said it would pull out of Goma, Sake and Masisi [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/96899/DRC-Civilian-population-in-Masisi-at-risk ] a territory in North Kivu.

Growing needs, limited resources

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), humanitarian organizations are trying to assist some 140,000 people in 12 sites for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in and around Goma.

The European Union has funded equipment to restore Goma's power lines, but organizations are unable to fly in aid and staff because the airport is closed. Banks also remain closed. NGOs and agencies are restricted by insecurity, and many humanitarian programmes are on hold.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) [ http://www.wfp.org/news/news-release/wfp-distributes-food-81000-people-displaced-recent-clashes-north-kivu ], which was temporarily forced to suspend operations when fighting broke out in Goma, has since resumed food distributions, providing some 81,000 people with rations in recent days. But WFP says it faces a funding shortfall of US$23 million for the next six months of its emergency operations in the DRC.

The latest fighting is reportedly taking place on the Rwandan border, between Rwandan troops and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Rwandan Hutu rebel group. There are new large-scale displacements reported every day, yet the crisis remains chronically underfunded, with just 56 percent of the UN's $791 million 2012 humanitarian appeal for DRC funded so far.

Merlin, a UK-headquartered international NGO, established its first rapid response health clinic in Nzulo a little over 24 hours after they heard about the impromptu camp. "There are so many needs right now," Arthur Sarazin, Merlin's country director, told IRIN. The primary conditions they are treating include diarrhoea and fever, and they have had two suspected cholera cases.

Alise Riziki, 23, sat with her two children under a rainbow-coloured umbrella, the only shelter she had. "When the gunfire came, I left [Sake] because I didn't want to die. We were afraid because they're saying they're going to kill us," she said.

But she found little respite at Nzulo. "Columns of M23 soldiers walked into the village last night. They said last night, 'If you don't go back, you'll be killed'. The soldiers want us to go back to Sake."

One M23 commander named Jean Pierre confirmed that he believed there were Mai Mai militia elements among the IDPs. "It's not easy to know if they're here - but they are," he said.

Two days after M23 arrived, the government army, FARDC, set up on another nearby hill. People once again fled, with gunfire being heard at night in the hills to the west, around Sake. Their only choice was to go to rebel held-Goma, which is already bursting at the seams with IDPs.

Forcible recruitment, abuses

"They are intimidating. They have guns. You can't speak back to that," said Patrick Bahati, 15. He was one of 60,000 already displaced people living at the Kanyaruchinya camp, to the north of Goma, once again on the move after finding themselves on the front lines of the war.

Patrick says his father was forcibly recruited by M23 on the morning of 19 November, a day before the rebel army walked into Goma. "They came in big numbers. They entered the house, found my dad, and took him by force," he told IRIN.

His mother wasn't home when the rebels arrived. Nearly a week later, he still does not know what happened to her. His father has not returned.

The NGO, World Vision [ http://www.worldvision.org.uk/news/headlines/recruitment-of-child-soldiers-in-drc-likely-to-increase-as-violence-mounts-warns-world-vision/ ] says its local partners "have seen armed people passing guns and ammunition to civilians this morning, including children aged16-18".

Originally from the North Kivu territory of Rutshuru, where much of the fighting over the last six months has played out, this is the second time Patrick and his 81-year-old grandmother have fled.

They were among the 4,700 people who flooded into the Mugunga III camp, west of Goma, over the weekend. The head of Mugunga III estimates that there are now 9,000 people living there.

"I just want to go back to school," Patrick said. "The schools have closed, but even when they open, I won't be able to go to school because I have to find food." He says he fears walking the streets of Goma, lest he be forcefully recruited to the rebels' ranks.

Civilians in Goma report that M23 looted the central bank on 27 November. FARDC soldiers have also been accused of looting homes and businesses and raping women as they retreat from areas now held by M23.

"The movements of people have not stabilized," said a UN source in Goma who preferred anonymity. "The problem is that everything can change very rapidly... Things are happening in all places - not just Goma but also Masisi, which is difficult to access, and [it is difficult] also to have an idea of how many people are fleeing."

jh/kr/rz [END] This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=96913


DRC: Civilian population in Masisi at risk

GOMA, 27 November 2012 (IRIN) - As Masisi, a lush territory in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), finds itself surrounded by military elements and mounting conflict, humanitarian agencies grow increasingly concerned about its civilian population.


M23, eastern Congo's latest rebel group, emerged in Masisi District in April when officers of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) defected from government forces and amassed troops in the hills. Now the group has taken Goma, the capita of North Kivu Province [ http://www.irinnews.org/report/96833/DRC-Fall-of-Goma-puts-200-000-children-at-risk ].

Masisi is a transit corridor for everything from minerals to arms, and it is a former stronghold of CNDP. Currently under government control, it is also home to the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS), an armed group now allied with FARDC, the national army.

Northwest of Masisi town is the unpredictable Raia Mutomboki, an anti-Rwandaphone Mai Mai, or rebel, group now allied with M23. To the northeast is Mai Mai Cheka, which is known for beheadings and is said to be engaging with M23. To the south, in Minova, is FARDC, which is also known for rights abuses.

In short, the population of Masisi is in trouble.

On the move

"It's a terrible road, huge insecurity, tons of militia, hundreds of existing camps - already it's a catastrophe," said Tariq Riebl, humanitarian coordinator for the NGO Oxfam.

Five camps for internally displaced people northeast of Masisi's Mushaki Village have emptied out so far - at least one due to pillaging by Raia Mutomboki - leaving 50,000 people pre-emptively on the move.

Many of those who fled Masisi have arrived at Mugunga I and Lac Vert camps just outside Goma.

"Insecurity is hampering aid efforts, with ongoing fighting and attacks preventing aid workers from reaching some areas for prolonged periods of time," said a 26 November Oxfam statement [ http://www.oxfamamerica.org/press/pressreleases/oxfam-steps-up-response-to-growing-crisis-in-eastern-congo ].

Lack of protection

On 14 November, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) issued a public statement [ http://www.jrs.net/news_detail?TN=NEWS-20121114045720 ] calling for MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping force in DRC, and the army to urgently intervene to stop "Congo's forgotten conflict" in Masisi. The organization documented at least 18 tit-for-tat killings and the burning of displacement camps and villages, some despite "the presence of a MONUSCO base less than a kilometre away".

In putting down the M23 rebellion in Rutshuru - another North Kivu territory - that has been gathering pace since May, the government army left areas of Masisi District unprotected and rebel groups moved in. "This has caused an unjustifiable lack of protection for the population," said a JRS staff member from Masisi.

jh/kr/rz [END] This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=96899


DRC: No power, little safe water in Goma

GOMA, 22 November 2012 (IRIN) - Thirty-one bodies have been collected from streets in and around the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) city of Goma since rebels took it over on 20 November. Ten were government troops (FARDC),  the rest, civilians, according to an NGO worker.

The guns may be silent and a sense of calm restored to the city, but its population of around a million - swollen by tens of thousands of newly displaced civilians - now faces other perils.

In the fighting between government troops and the M23 rebels now in control of Goma, a main electricity line was cut, leaving large areas of the city without power or piped water.

"We have more than one million inhabitants and additional IDPs here without water. The only point where they can collect water is the lake," said Arthur Sarazin, the head of NGO Merlin's North Kivu operations.

"And the lake [Kivu] water is not safe to drink," Sarazin added, as a group of young people stripped bare and washed themselves behind him. The water contains cholera bacteria and other waterborne diseases. With little access to sanitation, he says there is an extremely high risk of outbreaks of communicable disease.

Sarazin said he expected the water supply to resume soon.

"Our priority now is preparing for the returning [displaced civilians]", he said. Oxfam estimates there are 120,000 people on the move in the Goma area, including 60,000 who fled Kanyaruchinya camp for displaced people, 15km north of Goma, ahead of M23's advance.

Unsafe water

Despite the risks, lake water has become a commodity. "We can't drink the rainwater because of the volcano," said a young man as he drew water from Lake Kivu to fill one of eight 20-litre jerrycans strapped to his bicycle.

Rainwater during volcanic activity has been found to contain harmful contaminants and heavy metals, and Goma lies approximately 15km away from the continuously smoking Nyiragongo Volcano.

"I can sell one can for 500 Congolese francs [about US$0.50] in town," he said.

The Congolese Red Cross has set up water purification stations on the edge of the lake. Zephy Baluza, 24, walks to the Red Cross service to get water chlorinated for drinking. He bemoans the presence of M23. "The schools aren't open, there will be no jobs now, shops are shut. Since yesterday, I've eaten only bread."

Like many government facilities in the area, the community support office were Baluza worked in nearby Keshero closed during the rebel advance, leaving him out of a job.

Water - as well as schools - is one of the issues that M23 spokesman Lt Vianney Kazarama raised in a speech to several thousand civilians and policemen at a rally held at Goma's stadium on 21 November.

Anger at the UN

Many international humanitarian workers, including all "non-essential" UN staff, have been evacuated from the city.

Meanwhile, tensions between the local population and international aid workers have escalated in both North and South Kivu

"They are cross with MONUSCO," said the head of one NGO operating still in North Kivu, referring to the UN mission in DRC. While MONUSCO, alongside FARDC engaged M23 during its advance on Goma, it did not once the rebels entered the city.

Speaking to UN Radio in New York, UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous pointed out that one of the pillars of MONUSCU's mandate was to "support. not replace" FARDC's counter-insurgency operations.

"For a series of reasons, FARDC disappeared from the scene [in Goma]. So from the moment we were alone in the presence of M23, it's clear that the mandate wasn't to take on M23 directly."

White 4x4 vehicles of the kind used by UN agencies and NGOs, have been stoned in Goma by angry mobs, according to one NGO worker. Another said her agency had responded by painting their vehicles purple.

"The United Nations never did anything to defend us. They were useless, and now their job is done," said Nicholas, 19, who lives in Goma. It is a sentiment backed up by a group of policemen.

"We have joined M23 - they are the ones keeping the peace," one said. But not all were so supportive of what many are calling their "new Government".

There has been rioting and attacks on cars in towns across the region, including Bukvau, Bunia, Butembo and Walikale. This has further impeded humanitarian assessments and response.

"Goma is so poorly resourced to deal with an influx of people like this," said Oxfam spokeswoman Chritina Corbett.

jh/am/rz [END] This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=96858



DRC: Paths to peace in the Kivus

KAMPALA, 21 November 2012 (IRIN) - Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Joseph Kabila and his Rwandan and Ugandan counterparts, Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni, held crisis talks in Uganda a day after rebels captured the eastern DRC town of Goma, amid fears the situation could escalate into a much wider conflict.

Kigali has consistently denied charges - leveled by DRC and a UN panel of experts - that Rwanda provides military backing to the M23 rebels who captured the city, which lies on the Rwandan border and has not been in rebel hands since 2004. Uganda has also denied supporting the rebels.

Threat of a new regional war

The summit followed a UN Security Council demand [ http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs//2012/sc10823.doc.htm ] that M23 immediately withdraw from Goma and refrain from further advances. On 21 November, the group announced plans to march to Kinshasa.

Resolution 2076 also condemned M23's human rights abuses, including summary executions, gender-based violence and large-scale recruitment of child soldiers. The resolution also imposed targeted sanctions on the group's leadership.

According to an official summary, during the Security Council meeting in New York, DRC representative Seraphin Ngwej accused Rwanda of "presenting a serious threat to international peace and security in the sub-region, through the threat or the use of force against the territorial integrity of a state."

Rwanda's Olivier Nduhungirehe then told the Council his country had been "subjected to rocket attacks from the DRC, resulting in fatalities."

On 20 November, the International Crisis Group (ICG) declared: "Regional and international actors must now prevent this turning into a new regional war."

"Long-term solutions will require that the UN Security Council, African Union and International Conference on the Great Lakes Region ensure that peace agreements and stabilization plans no longer remain empty promises. To achieve this, coordinated and unequivocal pressure on the Congolese government and the M23 rebel movement, as well as the latter's external supporters, is required from international donors and regional actors," ICG said.

Urging broad talks

The rapid capture of Goma on 20 November came soon after Kabila dismissed the idea of negotiating with M23, saying DRC would only talk to Rwanda.

But calls for broad talks are mounting.

"The condemnation and sanctions used to target the M23 leaders is unproductive and prioritizes the military option to continue. Now the rebels have captured Goma and are willing to negotiate; the government should honour this," Angelo Izama, analyst and a fellow at the Open Society Institute, told IRIN.

In a 20 November report [ http://www.enoughproject.org/blogs/key-eastern-congo-city-falls-rebels-view-ground ], the Enough Project's associate director for research Aaron Hall concurred, writing: "Sanctioning the leadership of M23 alone is not enough. The US should support the United Nations to quickly appoint an envoy to work with the African Union that would create a peace process to include all those actors that perpetually fan the flames of conflict in the region.

"Until the systemic drivers of violence and regional intervention in eastern Congo are addressed, this scenario will just repeat itself on a constant loop," he added.

Ugandan lawyer and opposition MP Norbert Mao said, "The solution to the conflict is a national broad dialogue in DRC involving all the key stakeholders, whether armed or not. The M23 are fighting because Kabila reneged on an agreement he signed in March 2009." [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/83661/DRC-Kivus-move-closer-to-peace-but-risks-remain ]

"The African Union, which has been quiet, should play a role in ending the DRC conflict. Any process mediated by Uganda or Rwanda will always lack credibility because of suspicion over their past roles in the country," Nicholas Opiyo, a constitutional and human rights lawyer in Kampala, told IRIN.

"Uganda and Rwanda are not clear on what they are doing in DRC," he said.

"If they are not involved in the war, as a matter of urgency, Rwanda and Uganda should take concrete measures to condemn and isolate M23. They should offer their unconditional support to the DRC government either militarily or by way of talking in an effort to end the conflict," he continued.

A problem of leadership

The Kampala summit took place alongside a meeting of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, whose proposal to deploy a "neutral force" in eastern DRC to "eradicate" M23 and a Rwandan rebel group has made little progress for lack of funds or offers of troops.

In early November, Rift Valley Institute analyst Jason Stearns, summarizing his Usalama project report, wrote [ http://congosiasa.blogspot.com/2012/11/from-cndp-to-m23.html ] that "various policy options should be considered - none of them easy or straight-forward - including decentralization, cross-border economic projects, land reform, and the complete overhaul of the stabilization program for the Kivus".

On the streets of Goma, a man in his 50s, who asked not to be named, repeatedly told IRIN the situation was "not good."

"My family and I are sick of war. We've seen the armies of the [government and different rebel groups]; now this. We can't continue in this way. We are given no choice. It's a problem of leadership", he said.

so/js/am/rz [END] This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=96844


DRC: Fall of Goma puts 200,000 children at risk

KINSHASA/NAIROBI, 20 November 2012 (IRIN) - The arrival of M23 rebels in the eastern Congolese city of Goma on 20 November, has triggered widespread concern over the humanitarian ramifications in a region already beset by armed conflict, widespread displacement and attacks on civilians.

Fighting [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/96804/Briefing-DRC-s-M23-rebellion-under-pressure ] around the city led to the cancellation of a humanitarian assessment mission in North Kivu  Province - of which Goma is the capital - scheduled for 19 November.

Rebel spokesman Vianney Kazarama broadcast a message to the city telling residents to carry on with their normal activities, saying M23 [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95715/DRC-Understanding-armed-group-M23 ] was there for their security. He provided his own phone number and that of two intelligence officers for citizens to call if they had any concerns.

Kazarama also called on government soldiers and police to assemble at a stadium on 21 November for an identification process.

Goma resident, Jean Baptiste Musabyimana, told IRIN that M23 appeared to be in control of Goma. "We can see the M23 patrolling the main road that runs through our neighborhood," he said.

Another resident, Florentin Baruti, told IRIN that in the Bwirere district, where fighting took place on 20 November,  most people were still indoors but that some young men were in the streets to see what was happening.

"It's a relief that the fighting ended quite quickly," said Baruti, "but we're worried about the possibility of a counter attack by the FARDC [government forces]."

One of the main concerns of humanitarian agencies in the region relates to the 60,000 residents of the Kanyarucinya camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) to the north of Goma shortly before M23 reached the outskirts of the town. The camp is one of five dotted around Goma, which have a combined population of around 95,000.

"One problem is that many displaced families were split up on Monday [19 November] as they tried to get away from the fighting," said Tarik Riebl, Oxfam's coordinator in Goma. "When we talk to people they say they don't know where some of their family members are."

He added: "For the moment food is one of the main needs, and another is non-food items, such as water containers and other household items, and shelter. There needs to be a distribution of these items."

Displaced children

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) warned that displaced children now "face an increased risk of rape, abuse and recruitment."

"What we are seeing now is that fighting between the rebel group and the army is displacing the displaced again, stretching the coping abilities of an already exhausted community," Sebastian Albuja, the head of IDMC's Africa department, said in a statement.

"Internally displaced children and specifically boys in North Kivu are at particular risk of being recruited by a variety of armed groups," said Olivia Kalis, Policy and Advocacy Advisor for the NRC country office.

"IDPs are locking up or hiding their children fearing attack and forced recruitment with girls and boys will be taken by armed actors," she said.

Another NGO, World Vision [ http://reliefweb.int/report/democratic-republic-congo/recruitment-child-soldiers-drc-likely-increase-violence-mounts ], expressed similar concerns, putting the number of at-risk children in Goma alone at 200,000.

"Spontaneous camps for displaced families have been forming around Goma as communities flee to safety. Through its partners, World Vision is receiving reports that in the confusion, children are getting separated from parents - and the implications of this are devastating," the agency said.

"We know from the recent practices of the groups involved in this latest fighting that unaccompanied children in this part of DRC are in immediate and real danger of forcible recruitment into armed groups," said World Vision's Dominic Keyzer, from the Rwandan border town of Gisenye.

Keyzer added that the violence had impeded humanitarian response and that World Vision has had to suspend some life-saving programmes in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Widening insecurity

The International Crisis Group (ICG) said that the government's "capitulation to the M23 could send shockwaves throughout the Kivus and relaunch open warfare between the DRC and Rwanda" - which has been accused of backing the rebel movement, a charge it denies.

The ICG also warned that the fall of Goma might lead to the settling of scores "or even targeted extrajudicial executions against authorities and civil society activists who have taken a stance against the M23 since the beginning of the crisis".

The neighbouring province of South Kivu "is also affected by the deteriorating security situation which threatens thousands of civilians and has led to the suspension or reduction of humanitarian activities in the area", according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"South Kivu has been severely affected by repeated clashes between various armed groups and between armed groups and the Congolese army since mid-October. Several villages have been attacked over the last few weeks, triggering the flight of more than 30,000 people, while more than 300 houses have been destroyed or burned in these attacks. The current violence, primarily in the Kalehe and Shabunda territories, has reportedly killed more than 160 people in the past 10 days and led to serious human rights violations. Inter-communal tensions have compounded the situation," OCHA said.

There are more than 1.6 million IDPs in the two Kivu provinces.

nl/am/oa[END] This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=96833


Briefing: DRC's M23 rebellion under pressure

GOMA, 16 November 2012 (IRIN) - Heavy fighting broke out on 15 November in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo between M23 rebels [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95715/DRC-Understanding-armed-group-M23 ] and government forces (FARDC), breaking a virtual truce that had lasted on the frontlines between these forces for nearly three months.
 
M23 (The Mouvement Du 23 Mars) began in April 2012 as an army mutiny by several hundred soldiers who accused the government of breaching the terms of a March 2009 peace deal [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/83661/DRC-Kivus-move-closer-to-peace-but-risks-remain ] under which the rebel group they then belonged to, the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/76275/DRC-Nkunda-s-rebel-group-spells-out-demands ] morphed into a political party while CNDP fighters joined the army.
 
A spokesman for the FARDC in North Kivu, Col Olivier Hamuli, said the M23 attacked FARDC positions east of Kibumba, about 30km north of Goma, from 8am on 15 November, but were repulsed and fighting had ceased by the evening. Local media and UN observers who visited Kibumba after the fighting were shown the dead bodies of a dozen combatants identified by FARDC as M23 members, some of whom the army said had Rwandan identity documents.
 
Rwanda has persistently denied accusations, repeated in two UN panel of experts' reports on DRC, that it has been supporting the M23 rebels (whose armed elements in October adopted the name Congolese Revolutionary Army).
 
M23 accused the government of breaking the ceasefire. M23 spokesman Vianney Kazarama told IRIN that its forces had been attacked at 5am on 15 November near the Ugandan border north of Jomba, and subsequently on three other fronts.

The FARDC says at least 44 M23 fighters died in the fighting.
 
Is this the end of the truce?
 

Further hostilities seem likely in the near future. About a week before the latest clashes a military source told IRIN an offensive involving some 3,000 FARDC troops was expected in mid-November, and the governor of North Kivu Province, Julien Paluku, on 16 November gave members of M23 an ultimatum to surrender or be crushed.
 
A ceasefire had held along the main front line to the north of Goma since August, but there had been reports of M23 fighting alongside other armed groups in attacks on army bases in Masisi Territory, west of Rutshuru, every few days since 12 October.
 
The UN says these attacks were mounted by "presumed M23 elements", suggesting they were guerrilla raids and the attackers were difficult to identify.
 
M23 has not taken control of any large population centres in these operations, which were probably intended to put pressure on the government rather than to take territory. 

Jason Stearns, director of the Rift Valley Institute's Usalama Project, in an October report on the M23 [ http://riftvalley.net/resources/file/RVI%20Usalama%20Project%202%20North%20Kivu.pdf ] commented that with only an estimated 1,500-2,500 fighters, the movement lacked the manpower to expand its territory.
 
It is currently confined to Rutshuru, where it seized a strip of territory about 90km north to south along the Ugandan and Rwandan borders during battles with FARDC in June and July.
 
Can FARDC decisively defeat M23?
 
On paper the government forces number 105,000, plus tanks and aircraft, while M23's small force is entirely infantry. Until the latest fighting the rebels had won most of their major battles against FARDC, but external support for those victories seems to have been vital.
 
The UN group of experts has concluded that Rwanda has backed M23 with recruits, arms and ammunition and direct support from Rwandan army units when it has come under pressure. The group has also accused Uganda of providing support, including military reinforcements in late July. Both governments vehemently deny the accusations. 
 
External support for M23 could dwindle given mounting international condemnation of the movement.
 
On 13 November, the US government "designated" the group's leader, Sultani Makenga, freezing any assets he has in US jurisdictions and barring US citizens from doing business with him [ http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1763.aspx ].

Probably in response to the UN group of experts report, Uganda on 13 November closed a border crossing near Bunagana, where M23 has its headquarters. The International Crisis Group (ICG) Congo analyst Thierry Vircoulon said the move would hurt M23 financially as it had been taxing traffic at the crossing, but would not of itself prevent continued military support from Rwanda.
 
The BBC has reported that there is reluctance among UN Security Council members to condemn Rwandan and Ugandan officials over alleged support to the M23.
 
In its September report on the DRC, ICG says a military solution to M23 is "unrealistic", while Stearns comments that "the Congolese army cannot defeat the M23 with military might alone."
 
Even with international pressure, Stearns says, it will be difficult to ensure that the support allegedly provided to M23 by neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda has been cut.
 
How much support is there for M23 in DRC?
 
M23 has held no elections, and has so far met with almost unanimous condemnation from the DRC's political spectrum.
 
According to Stearns, it has a narrower support base than its predecessor movement the CNDP (which won only a single national assembly seat after its transformation into a political party). Stearns's research finds that the great majority of M23 officers are from the Tutsi ethnic group (as were most CNDP officers), and that it has failed to attract Hutu elites who were important allies to the CNDP in its early stages. He stresses that the M23 cannot be identified with the wider Congolese Tutsi community either.
 
Hutus are the great majority of the population in Rutshuru and the largest ethnic group in Masisi, while Tutsis are a small minority in both territories although more numerous there than elsewhere in the DRC.
 
Like the CNDP before it, M23 says it is fighting to defend North Kivu's Kinyarwanda speaking population (Hutu and Tutsi). Kinyarwanda speakers have come under attack several times in recent years: in 1993, when they were targeted by communities who saw themselves as more "indigenous"; and in 1994-1996 when the arrival of Hutu refugees in the wake of the Rwandan genocide led tens of thousands of Congolese Tutsis to flee into exile. Hundreds of Tutsi civilians across the country were killed at the outbreak of wars in 1996 and 1998.
 
In the past decade, however, the Tutsi have succeeded in protecting and expanding their land holdings in North Kivu. These ranches are not reported to be under attack by neighbouring communities, although many Tutsi civilians fled Masisi at the start of the M23 rebellion.

Tutsi farms are mainly surrounded by Hutu smallholders, many of whom resent the extension of ranches as this has denied them access to farmland. But these smallholders are also under pressure from surrounding ethnic groups and to that extent have a common interest with their fellow Kinyarwanda-speaking Tutsi neighbours.
 
The key importance of a Hutu/Tutsi alliance to the M23 was underscored by the North Kivu governor on 16 November when he claimed that Hutus made up 85 percent of the M23's rank-and-file and gave them an ultimatum to abandon the rebel movement.
 
Many of those foot soldiers may have been press-ganged into the rebellion, according to research by Human Rights Watch.
 
Stearns notes that M23 has succeeded in persuading recognized elites from the ethnic Nande community, the largest ethnic group in North Kivu, (although not from other communities) to join the movement.
 
M23 has also, according to Stearns, forged alliances with nine armed groups in eastern DRC, including factions of the Raia Mutomboki (Angry Citizens) coalition [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95626/DRC-Scores-killed-as-Mai-Mai-target-Kinyarwanda-speakers ]. Most of these groups have only a few hundred fighters but they have managed to inflict some defeats on an army preoccupied with M23.
 
An investigation by the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC found that the Raia Mutomboki and their allies the Mai Mai Kifuafua "arbitrarily executed" at least 246 civilians in Masisi between April and September 2012.
 
On 14 November, the Jesuit Refugee Service called for "increased attention to be urgently provided by the international community, one which answers the pleas for security and humanitarian aid and pushes Congolese political, civil and military authorities to guarantee the protection of these populations [in Masisi]. Otherwise free reign will continue to be given to militias responsible for the killing of innocent children, women and men."

ICG's Vircoulon and Stearns comment that M23 has bought its alliances with money and they may not last.
 
The FARDC in September announced a plan to integrate several armed groups into its forces but so far only the Nyatura, an ethnic Hutu militia, have joined in large numbers (perhaps 400).
 
Despite the evidence of war crimes committed by M23, and by its leaders when they were in the CNDP [ http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/09/11/dr-congo-m23-rebels-committing-war-crimes ] several (non-Tutsi) residents of Goma told IRIN they thought M23 treats the general population no worse than the army does and that they shared the group's espoused aim of decentralizing government, as stipulated in the DRC constitution.
 
In the Kivu provinces, there is a suspicion among several people IRIN interviewed that the M23 also has tacit support from many senior army officers. About a quarter of the army's top ranks in the Kivus were made up of former CNDP officers. According to Stearns, about half of these have joined M23. Some of the others may be sympathizers.
 
How could the rebellion be brought to an end?
 
The UN Security Council has threatened sanctions against those backing M23 with arms, and Rwanda has already seen some cuts to overseas aid as a result of its alleged support for the group. The DRC government is lobbying for such pressure to be ramped up. Stearns argues, however, that even with increased pressure, a negotiated settlement will have to include a partial reintegration of the M23 into the army.
 
Stearns and the ICG agree that the regional proposal for a "neutral force" [ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-18848987 ] of 4,000 men to guard the Rwandan/DRC border is a distraction from the main issue and is unlikely to be funded. They also call for longer-term governance reforms to underpin a peace settlement.
 
Local agreements between communities, particularly on land issues, could help assuage Tutsi concerns about their rights - concerns the M23 has used to justify its rebellion [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95864/DRC-Top-officials-warn-against-witch-hunts-hate-speech ].
 
A Congolese Tutsi ex-politician and landowner Emmanuel Kamanzi recently ceded 25 hectares of one of his cattle ranches to a community in Masisi Territory in a deal brokered by UN Habitat which the North Kivu Federation of Agricultural Producers has recommended as a model for settling other land conflicts. Kamanzi told IRIN he envisaged more such deals, and greater collaboration between agriculturalists and cattle ranchers, who could help the agriculturalists market their products.

nl/am/cb [END] This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=96804


DRC: Doubts mount over Ugandan mediation

KAMPALA, 19 October 2012 (IRIN) - Uganda's mediation to end the fighting in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between government troops and M23 "mutineers", which has caused large-scale population displacement, has come into question.

At their eighth summit in Kampala in August 2012, International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) heads of state and government mandated Uganda as its current chair to facilitate dialogue between M23 fighters (former DRC national army soldiers who mutinied in April) and the DRC government. It has since established contact with M23 and dialogue has been ongoing, according to a Ugandan government statement.

However, analysts are skeptical and doubt Uganda's impartiality and credibility in facilitating the talks, given its alleged support and arming of M23 in its six-month fight against government troops in DRC's North Kivu Province. Uganda denies giving any support to M23.

"It's within the context of ICGLR for Uganda to facilitate the dialogue. But there is confusion. You can't facilitate talks on the one hand, and on the other you are being accused of arming and supporting rebels," Philip Apuuli Kasaija, an associate professor of political science at Makerere University, told IRIN.

"There are several damming and alarming accusations about Uganda in the leaked UN Security Council's Group of Experts report. This raises doubts about Uganda's moral authority to mediate. We need this conflict to end. The people in eastern DRC have suffered for so long," he said.

IRIN has not seen the leaked UN report.

"Should Uganda be engaged in finding a lasting solution to the DRC problem - the answer is yes. But can Uganda be the facilitator? I don't think so. Not when its impartiality is being questioned," Stephen Oola, a transitional justice and governance analyst at Makerere University's Refugee Law Project, told IRIN.

"Uganda needs to engage and support a robust peace process for regional stability. There can be no peace in DRC without Uganda's goodwill and engagement. Just like there can't be sustainable peace in Uganda until Congo is stable and under effective governance and rule of law," he said.

Stability "intricately linked"

"I think Uganda, and indeed all the regional governments within the Great Lakes region must realize that our stability is intricately linked. The instability and insecurity in DRC has a direct spillover effect in Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, Angola and Central African Republic," he said.

"Uganda's credibility to mediate in the conflict is questionable. Uganda is seen as an interested party. Uganda has been in the past accused of looting minerals and now for supporting M23. So it can't be in position to facilitate the dialogue," said an official in the Ministry of Internal Affairs who preferred anonymity.

"We can't accept the promotion of violence. We are tired of war in the Great Lakes region. It has caused the loss of lives, poverty and delayed development. We need the end of conflict in the region," John Baptist Odama, a member of the Acholi Religious Peace Initiative in northern Uganda, told IRIN.

"I supposed the ICGLR countries did it in good faith. If they did not, they will have to account for their action. The ball is in the hands of Uganda to prove its worth," he said.

"Uganda still has troops pursuing the Lord's Resistance Army in DRC. Its credibility and objectivity will always be doubted by the government of DRC and other players," Nicholas Opiyo, a constitutional and human rights lawyer in Kampala, told IRIN.

Uganda's standpoint

However, Henry Okello Oryem, minister of state in charge of international affairs, dismissed the allegations.

"The allegations in [a] UN leaked report are rubbish. We can't be derailed from this process. We have the moral authority to chair the talks between the DRC and M23 leaders," Okello Oryem told IRIN.

"There are some people who have malicious intentions to malign us. Uganda remains fully committed to spearhead the regional efforts to ensure security and stability in eastern DRC is achieved," he said.

The fighting between government troops and "mutineers" has forced thousands of refugees to stream into Uganda [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/96491/UGANDA-DRC-refugee-influx-stretching-relief-supplies ] and Rwanda. [ http://www.irinnews.org/report/95413/DRC-Congolese-refugees-flee-fighting-into-Rwanda ]

The ICGLR meeting agreed to form a 4,000 strong neutral international force to hunt down armed groups in eastern DRC. Tanzania has agreed to contribute one battalion.

But the International Crisis Group (ICG) in its October report [ http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/africa/central-africa/dr-congo/b091-eastern-congo-why-stabilisation-failed.aspx ] called for a UN-negotiated settlement between the Congolese authorities and M23.

Sticking plaster solutions

"Any attempts to solve the problem of DRC can't be external. The external measure is just bandaging the wound. DRC is a weak state. Attempts should be made to strengthen DRC to have functional institutions. It should be helped to build a credible and capable army to defend its territory," said Kampala lawyer Opiyo.

"I think the continent now has institutions and systems for conflict resolution like the African Union and Intergovernmental Authority on Development who should take up the mantle and commit to a peaceful resolution of conflicts. Military approaches have been tried and are ongoing but with no end in sight. As a conflict analyst, I can attest that peaceful solutions pay a better peace dividend," Makerere University's Oola told IRIN.

Uganda has a high stake in the stability of all its neighbouring states, because regional conflict affects Uganda, just as conflict within Uganda affects its neighbours.

"So long as certain groups within the Congo feel excluded, marginalized, exploited and oppressed, there can be no peace and stability in the DRC. Until, this internal cohesion is achieved, outside actors and multinationals interested in exploiting their resources will keep on fuelling the mess, and conflicts will continue," said Oola.
so/am/cb [END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=96593


DRC: Tough bargaining with armed groups

KALEMBE, 18 October 2012 (IRIN) - A recent incident in the town of Kalembe, in the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) North Kivu Province, highlighted the fluid ambiguity of the national army's troubled relationship with local militia groups in eastern Congo as it attempts to integrate them into its ranks.

Three hours before it was attacked by the army on 6 October, the militia appealed to the government, via the media, for access to more ammunition.

FARDC, the national army, had warned the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS) militia that it would attack if they did not open the road leading west. APCLS spokesman John Weza told IRIN that morning they would resist and were fighting to overthrow the government.

But in case the high command was ready to do a deal, as it often had in the past, he added: "From day to day, there are clashes and our depots are run down. If the army really wants to ally with the APCLS, it must guarantee us logistics. If the government is serious about an alliance, how come the army is blocking the munitions we were sent from Goma [the capital of North Kivu province]?"

The militia soon had its answer as heavy weapons fire started to rain on its positions. After a two-and-a-half hour battle, a commando battalion had captured Kalembe, and the APCLS had retreated into the forest, leaving behind several dead and wounded. The commandos had one dead and two injured; at least one civilian was also killed.

On the face of it, this was a success for the army, but the authorities have tried to play down the incident and initially even denied that it had happened. The government has been trying to integrate several armed groups into the army; last month it announced that the APCLS and two other groups, the Nyatura and the Congo Defence Forces (FDC), had agreed to integrate their fighters.

That announcement now looks premature. Army spokesman Lt Col Olivier Hamuli says the process is underway, but so far the number of militia fighters assembled at army camps has been disappointing, and further bartering of 'logistics' for combatants may be required to fill quotas.

Progress

There has been some progress with the integration of the Nyatura, an ethnic Hutu militia. The commander of the DRC's land forces, Gen Amisi 'Tango Fort' inspected a group of the Nyatura at an army camp in Mushaki, in North Kivu's Masisi territory, on 15 October.

A military press attaché said 800 of this group were at Mushaki, but only about 200 could be seen on parade, and most of them appeared unarmed. At a briefing with officers, the general said he would return and check the numbers next week; if there were 300 combatants, they could be sent for deployment. "You must all be here," he said, "and if you have left your arms in the forest you must bring them here."

Nyatura leaders thanked the general for his support but complained that so far the combatants had not been issued tents and their rations were meagre. A self-styled Nyatura lieutenant told IRIN that most of the militia were ex-soldiers who deserted because of lack of pay and miserable living conditions.

Local sources say 60 of the APCLS fighters who assembled at an army camp in the town of Nyabiondo in September are still there despite the fighting at Kalembe, so there might yet be an integration of this group. There are no confirmed reports that the FDC has started to integrate, but a North Kivu civil society group says 200 members of another militia have assembled at the city of Beni.

Strong armed groups

Since May, the M23 rebellion [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95836/Briefing-Crisis-in-North-Kivu ] by a group of army mutineers has allowed a number of armed groups to expand and take back territory from the government.

According to the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), there are now more than 30 armed groups in the eastern provinces. Most of these probably number a few hundred or less, but some might play an important role in the confrontation between the army and the M23.

The conflict currently looks like a stand-off, despite a seemingly huge imbalance of forces. The think tank International Crisis Group (ICG) estimates that the army recently had 7,000 troops deployed against the M23, which numbered only around 1,000. Both sides have been reinforced, with Human Rights Watch and other observers alleging that units of the Rwandan army have supported the M23 during major engagements.

The largest armed group in the region is probably the Rwandan rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which the ICG estimates could have up to 3,000 fighters.

Congo analyst Jason Stearns estimates that the APCLS has less than 2,000 fighters, while local sources suggest that the FDC, the Nyatura, and Mai Mai Cheka - which was founded by one of M23's former colleagues in an allegedly Rwandan-backed rebel movement - could each number up to 1,000. The Raia Mutomboki [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95626 ], an apparently leaderless anti-Rwandophone alliance, might be able to mobilize a few thousand for attacks on Rwandophone communities.

Alliances

According to ICG's Thierry Vircoulon, there is competition between the army and the M23 for alliances with armed groups. The government has alleged that the M23 is in alliance with Mai Mai Cheka, as well as Raia Mutomboki and other Mai Mai - or rebel - groups in North Kivu.

The dilemma for the DRC's high command is whether to bid for armed groups' support by offering their commanders access to munitions and senior ranks in the army, thereby risking future trouble, or to refuse these demands and risk losing their support against the M23.

Several waves of armed groups have been integrated since 2004, but a self-styled intelligence officer in the Nyatura, Sadiki Murenge, told IRIN that Mai Mai leaders have always kept back some of their combatants, who continue harassing civilians and fighting each other or the army, often for control of mines.

The UN Refugee Agency's Christophe Beau, coordinator of the North Kivu Protection Cluster, a humanitarian network focusing on threats to civilians, said he had reservations about the army trying to integrate yet more armed groups, many of which have a reputation for human rights abuses.

The clash at Kalembe suggests that, so far, the high command is cautiously seeking armed group support, with an eye to the long-term.

It has also given instructions not to recruit foreign armed groups or underage combatants. At his briefing at Mushaki on Monday, Gen Amisi said he had been asked by provincial deputies to stress that no children or FDLR members should be integrated with the army.

Analyst Stearns suggests that the way to pacify the area is to organize a political dialogue among all the armed actors, with MONUSCO taking on the role of mediator, an approach that has never been tried. The ICG's Vircoulon, however, argues that the Kivu crisis does not need a new strategy, but requires donors to exert concerted pressure on Kinshasa and Kigali to respect their existing commitments [http://irinnews.org/Report/96468/DRC-Call-to-implement-peace-agreements-in-North-Kivu] - notably, in Kinshasa's case, a commitment to unify the army command and pay its soldiers their full salaries.

The mines

A MONUSCO source said a round table with the armed actors might not lead to a wholesale integration or demobilization, as some of the armed group leaders would be reluctant to trade their control of gold mines for generals' ranks in the Congolese army.

The army's success, with help from MONUSCO, at taking control of the larger mines in the Kivus in recent years suggests that if the M23 can be dismantled and a unified army command achieved, those mines might again be brought under government control.

It may also be possible to arrest and indict some armed group leaders, as happened in Ituri District, but armed groups can find other leaders and are likely to retain an influence at many mines. A 2012 study of demobilization programmes in the country [ http://tdrp.net/PDFs/DRC-Report-2012.pdf ] found that ex-militia members, many working as miners, still control activity in Ituri's gold mines, but without open conflict. Since generals and army officers have stakes in artisanal mines across the DRC, in peaceful areas as well as conflict zones, continued interests in mining by militia leaders may not be incompatible with their integration into the army.

The key to reconciling those interests with peace and security may be to reach an agreement with armed actors and other community leaders on the exploitation of mineral and other land resources. A study by Nest, Grignon and Kisangani - The Democratic Republic of Congo: Economic Dimensions of War and Peace, 2006 - found that successive political dialogues in the DRC failed to resolve underlying conflicts because they never really addressed rival parties' economic interests, notably in natural resources.
nl/kr/rz [END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=96585



DRC: Continuing efforts to contain Ebola


NAIROBI, 17 October 2012 (IRIN) - An Ebola outbreak that has killed several people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) appears to be slowing down, but health workers say there is a need for continued vigilance in order to contain the virus.

"Their last confirmed case was admitted in the MSF [Médecins Sans Frontières]/Ministry of Health Ebola ward on October 10, after two weeks with no confirmed cases," Olimpia de la Rosa, MSF medical emergency coordinator, told IRIN in an email. "The decrease in the number of admissions in our facility makes us think that we are on the way to contain the outbreak, but containment efforts must continue until no cases are confirmed for at least 21 days."

According to the UN World Health Organization's (WHO) 8 October update [ http://www.who.int/csr/don/2012_10_08a/en/index.html ], the disease had claimed 24 lives by 7 October, while 31 cases had been confirmed and 18 were suspected. The outbreak, first reported [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/96160/DRC-Bushmeat-blamed-for-Ebola-outbreak ] on 17 August, is in Isiro and Viadana health zones in the country's north-eastern Orientale Province.

The Ministry of Health is working with a task force that includes, among others, MSF, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and WHO. Its activities involve surveillance, health worker training, community education and the implementation of biosafety measures. MSF has also set up a centre for supportive treatment of Ebola patients.

Ebola, which causes fever and bleeding from orifices, can cause death within days. There is no cure or vaccine for it, so efforts are concentrated on stopping its spread. The current strain in DRC has been identified as Ebola-Bundibugyo - named for a Ugandan district that borders the DRC. The fatality rate [ http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/16/12/10-0627_article.htm ] rate for this strain is estimated at about 40 percent.

Medical situation delicate

According to MSF's de la Rosa, there is "a need to reinforce health staff knowledge about the ways of transmission of the disease and about the ways to protect patients and themselves from contagion".

Ebola is new to the area, and few local health workers had been trained to deal with it when the outbreak began. Several health workers have succumbed to the outbreak. Maintaining empathy for severely ill patients while ensuring health workers remain disease-free is a challenge.

"For the health staff providing care in the treatment centre, it is a big challenge to make compatible biosafety measures and establish[ing] an empathic patient-care giver relationship. Gloves, goggles, masks, gowns. pose a barrier to transmission but also to human contact and communication," she said.

"Physical contact through the protection material, words [of support] and provision of good medical care in the most friendly facility that biosafety allows can help to overcome this challenge and ensure the providing of quality medical treatment and patients' well-being."

Prevention a problem

According to WHO [ http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en ], "Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals." Fruit bats are considered to be the natural host of the virus.

Preventing future outbreaks will remain difficult as long as the response is reactionary, de la Rosa noted. "It is very difficult to prevent an Ebola outbreak from appearing because we still ignore [the virus] in non-epidemic periods, making impossible to stop the appearance of the first cases," she said. "We can just detect outbreaks when some patients become infected, usually when they die of unknown causes."

Meanwhile, neighbouring Uganda, which experienced a fatal Ebola outbreak [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/96010/UGANDA-Containment-worries-as-Ebola-numbers-rise ] in the western district of Kibaale in July, was declared Ebola-free by the country's Ministry of Health on 4 October.
kr/rz [END] This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=96572


DRC: Call to implement peace agreements in North Kivu

NAIROBI, 5 October 2012 (IRIN) - Experts have called on donors and the international community to exert pressure on governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda to stop the escalation of violence in the DRC's North Kivu region by demonstrating the political will to implement peace agreements with rebel groups and each other.

"What is needed in North Kivu is not a new political agreement that none of the parties will respect and will only address the crisis management but a real engagement from all the parties to resolve the conflict. Donors have to put pressure on both Rwanda and DRC to resolve this conflict and respect their engagement, non-interference and security sector reform," Marc-André Lagrange, Central Africa senior analyst with the International Crisis Group (ICG), told IRIN.

In a briefing [ http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/africa/central-africa/dr-congo/b091-eastern-congo-why-stabilisation-failed.aspx ] released Thursday, the Brussels-based ICG called for, among other things, a UN-negotiated settlement between the Congolese authorities and rebel group M23.

"If international donors and African mediators persist in managing the crisis rather than solving it, it will be impossible to avoid the repetitive cycle of rebellions in the Kivus and the risk of large-scale violence will remain," the ICG briefing said.

Blame game

The M23, comprised of former DRC national army (FARDC) soldiers who mutinied in April, are fighting government troops in North and South Kivu. A report by UN experts accused Rwanda of supporting the rebel group, accusations Rwandese authorities have denied.

"The M23 is the result of the failure to implement the previous peace agreements by all parties, and failure from both Rwanda and DRC to respect the engagement taken in the International Conference on Great Lakes Region peace and security pact and the 2009 peace agreement. MONUSCO [the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC] and international donors, by their passivity, also bear a responsibility in the actual crisis," said ICG's Lagrange.

Failure to implement a March 2009 peace agreement between Congolese authorities and the rebel group National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) has helped perpetuate violence in the area, the ICG says.

Meanwhile, there are concerns that the killing of at least 10 people by unknown assailants this week in Goma, the capital of North Kivu Province, could lead to more violence.

"People are living in tension, and they don't know what will happen. The M23 are now saying they want to get into Goma to rescue people from the military. There might be more violence," Aloys Tegera, a researcher at the Pole Institute, told IRIN.

In a September statement, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused M23 rebels of committing war crimes [ http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/09/11/dr-congo-m23-rebels-committing-war-crimes ] in eastern DRC.

"The M23 rebels are committing a horrific trail of new atrocities in eastern Congo," Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at HRW, said in the statement. "M23 commanders should be held accountable for these crimes, and the Rwandan officials supporting these abusive commanders could face justice for aiding and abetting the crimes."

But Tegera said that, while it is not clear who is responsible for the killings, a military personnel had disclosed that the Congolese army could have been responsible, and that some 5,000 armed military personnel have deserted duty and disappeared into the civilian population.

Worsening security

Aid workers told IRIN that the current security situation, while troubling, hasn't yet impacted their work.

"The security situation has become a concern in Goma recently, but not to the extent that it is actually affecting humanitarian work in the region. Currently, the main impact of the increase in security incidents in Goma has been that humanitarians are exercising more caution when they move around at night," Ann-France White, from the response and coordination unit of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)in DRC, told IRIN by email.

The Congolese government has sent a large contingent of troops to the area to quell the threat posed by M23. Tegera told IRIN the increase in troop numbers could be worsening the situation.

"The presence of the military is not helping much, and it is only adding to insecurity because they are harassing people," Tegera added.

In one of the attacks, a grenade was thrown at the residence of the vice governor of North Kivu Province, but no casualties were reported. A week earlier, grenades were hurled into a restaurant, wounding several people.

A woman and two men were shot dead near the University of Goma; another man was killed in Ndosho, also in Goma, while three more people were killed in North Mabanga, Karishimbi and Keshero neighborhoods.

"If they are attacking even government officials, how can ordinary citizens be safe?" Tegera asked.
ko/rz [END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=96468


DRC: Army commander seeks solution to Masisi crisis

GOMA, 26 September 2012 (IRIN) - Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) say they are trying to arrange for the assembly and disarmament of rival ethnic militias implicated in the massacres of hundreds of people in Masisi territory in the eastern province of North Kivu.
 
Congolese army spokesman Lt-Col Olivier Hamuli told IRIN that following a visit to Masisi in September, the commander of the DRC's land forces, Gen Amisi Tango Fort, called on the militias to 'regroup' and disarm. Regrouping refers to the assembly of combatants in specific locations where they can be monitored prior to disarmament. 
 
Since May, the UN has documented more than 45 attacks by militias or armed groups on some 30 villages and towns in the Ufamandu area of Masisi.
 
"Some of the attacks have been carried out by the Raïa Mutomboki and others by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), at times in coalition with the armed group Nyatura," the UN stated on August 29 [ http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42767&Cr=Democratic&Cr1=Congo#.UGBeNo0gfnE ]. "This has resulted in serious human rights violations including civilian massacres."
 
The FDLR is a Rwandan rebel group, while the Raïa Mutomboki, which means 'angry citizens', is a multi-tribal Congolese alliance, and the Nyatura is a Congolese Hutu group.
 
"Proclaiming to protect local populations against the predominantly Hutu FDLR, the Raïa Mutomboki are targeting civilians of Hutu ethnicity whom they consider to be foreigners and allies of the FDLR. In turn, the FDLR retaliate against civilian populations they believe to be associated with Raïa Mutomboki," an August statement by the UN Human Rights Office said. [ http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12464&LangID=E ]
 
Community leaders in Masisi welcomed Amisi's visit to the territory, which seems to have raised hopes that the Nyatura, and perhaps the Raïa Mutomboki, could be integrated in the armed forces.
 
"It's good to see the army is doing something. We've heard, although it's not confirmed, that the Nyatura group has already been integrated into the army," said Innocent Kibindi, an administrator in the Rubaya area in southern Masisi.
 
However, FARDC's Hamuli told IRIN that the militias were not eligible for recruitment by the national army, which is intended only for civilians, aged 18 to 25, who had attended school for at least six years, did not have a criminal record and had not already taken up arms. The message for the armed groups, he stressed, was to regroup and lay down their arms.
 
No classic integration
 
He added that "there will not be a classic integration of armed groups as in the past when PARECO ['Patriotes résistants congolais'] and the CNDP ['Congrès national pour la défense du people'] joined the army. That integration programme closed last year".

Hamuli's statement could, however, leave room for army deserters who have joined militias returning to the ranks. Sadiki Murenge, a self-styled 'lieutenant-colonel' of the Nyatura, told IRIN that his militia consisted of soldiers who had deserted their units to defend their families from the Raïa Mutomboki, adding that Nyatura fighters had been integrated in September, but Raïa Mutomboki had either not been invited to join the army or had refused to do so.
 
Rather than integrating with the Congolese army, some armed groups might ally with it, as they often have in the past. Analysts say since a mutiny broke out in the army in April, giving rise to M23 [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95715/DRC-Understanding-armed-group-M23 ], Kinshasa has been in need of allies and could turn to the militias.
 
"There have been several informal agreements in the past between the Congolese army and the Raïa Mutomboki against the FDLR in Shabunda Territory [in South Kivu Province] and perhaps also in Walikale [North Kivu]. This is often the case between the Congolese army and militia groups," central Africa analyst Thierry Vircoulon of the International Crisis Group told IRIN.
 
Commenting on the rumours of integration initiatives, Christophe Beau, coordinator of the North Kivu protection cluster, a grouping of humanitarian agencies concerned with civilian protection, said that peace initiatives should always be welcomed, but cautioned that if there were further integrations of armed groups, these should not preclude prosecution of those guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
 
Residents of Rubaya denied claims that the Nyatura had been involved in civilian massacres, and said they were just protecting their community.
 
Security
 
Sources at the UN peacekeeping mission to the Congo, MONUSCO, told IRIN that the violence in southern Masisi had subsided since August. However, Kibindi in Rubaya said security incidents were still occurring  and that the area remains unsafe for people to return.
 
The protection cluster wrote to MONUSCO in August asking for peacekeepers to be redeployed to two locations in southern Masisi - Remeka and Katoyi - from which they withdrew in July after attacks by the Raïa Mutomboki. Witnesses to those attacks told IRIN there had been fewer than 50 peacekeepers at Katoyi when the settlement was attacked by several militiamen, who forced a whole battalion of the Congolese army to abandon the site.
 
nl/kr/rz [END] This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=96392



DRC: Children bear brunt of conflict in the east

NAIROBI, 25 September 2012 (IRIN) - Children in the Kivu provinces of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are not only getting caught in the crossfire of the area's ongoing violence, but also facing health risks, threats of forced recruitment by local and foreign militias, and interrupted educations, say officials.

"Children are swept up in the mass population movements that are currently ongoing in eastern DRC, with entire families fleeing multiple conflicts. Our hospitals have operated on children with bullet wounds who have been caught in the crossfire. Some children present late with life-threatening malaria, malnutrition or respiratory tract infections," Jan-Peter Stellema, operations manager at Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), told IRIN.

"Many [of the displaced] are hiding in the malarial forests of the interior for days or weeks at a time, cut off from medical care and difficult to reach. Others are living with Congolese host families, often strangers who share their food and living quarters with those on the run," Stellema said.

The insecurity has disrupted MSF's healthcare provision, with some of the organization's mobile clinics being suspended, added Stellema. "Some of our national staff feel unsafe and have also fled, leaving us functioning with skeleton teams in some project locations."

Children are also under threat of forced recruitment [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/96117/DRC-Children-young-men-flee-M23-recruitment ] by insurgent groups in North Kivu, including M23 [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95715/DRC-Understanding-armed-group-M23 ] - a group of former DRC national army (FARDC) soldiers who mutinied in April - and both foreign and Congolese militias including the Mai Mai groups and the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR).

In a 19 September statement [ http://reliefweb.int/report/democratic-republic-congo/its-management-security-crisis-government-must-not-lose-sight ], a coalition of NGOs in the DRC said, "Children are not only directly exposed to the real risk of recruitment and re-recruitment; their vulnerability is also aggravated by the reduced activity of child protection organizations that are affected by the security situation."

The statement noted that the redeployment of the FARDC to contain M23 has "given free rein" to self-defence militias and armed groups that use children.

Renewed insecurity in South Kivu

Education in South Kivu Province has been disrupted by the destruction of dozens of classrooms, class sizes overwhelmed by displaced children and the fact that some schools have become temporary dormitories for IDPs, according to an OCHA report [ http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/RDC-SK_Rapport%20hebdomadaire%2020120919.pdf ].

In the Hauts Plateaux area in Kalehe, in northern South Kivu, conflict between armed groups who are burning and pillaging houses is common, adds OCHA [ http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Rapport%20Complet_2.pdf ]. In late August, at least 500 households fled the area of Kitopo following fighting between the FDLR and the Raïya Mutomboki militia [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95626/DRC-Scores-killed-as-Mai-Mai-target-Kinyarwanda-speakers ].

"Civilians are facing an unprecedented, high level of armed violence due to the renewed activism of armed groups in the province," said Florent Mehaule, the acting head of the OCHA office in South Kivu Province.

"This volatile security situation leads to shrinking humanitarian space, preventing humanitarian workers [from] assisting more than 150,000 people in need."

In South Kivu alone, more than 374,000 people were displaced between January and August, creating growing needs for food assistance, non-food items, water and sanitation, said Mehaule.

Commenting on the situation in eastern DRC, MSF's Stellema said, "Despite the conflict, life goes on in the region and the regular health needs remain - there are still pregnant women who require antenatal care, or assistance with a complicated delivery, children who are susceptible to measles and need vaccinating... But many of the most vulnerable in the region are now unable to access the assistance they need."
aw/rz [END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=96390



DRC: Thousands of displaced out of reach

GOMA, 24 September 2012 (IRIN) - Weather conditions and continued insecurity are hampering aid agencies' efforts to reach hundreds of thousands of people displaced by armed conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95836
 
The onset of the rainy season has made many roads impassable, cutting off large populations from assistance. UN World Food Programme (WFP) officer Laura Parker told IRIN that a convoy of trucks that WFP sent to Walikale territory in North Kivu province in early September took 11 days to cover 250km.
 
WFP has faced a series of setbacks in its attempts to help the internally displaced people (IDPs) in Walikale.
 
"We got the alert in February that there were 86,000 newly displaced in the territory needing assistance," said Parker. "We had already started to mobilize our trucks at that time, but due to security and weather conditions we were not able to get trucks out there till July, and the recent rains are a severe hindrance."
 
The agency is now considering other transportation options for Walikale. Parker said air transport might be a possibility, though it would be expensive. The convoy of trucks will be driven to Kisangani, about 600km further west, and might be used to supply Walikale from there.
 
Many without help
 
UN agencies are also concerned about 129,000 newly identified displaced people who have fled massacres in Masisi territory in the past few months. WFP is planning operations to assist this group in the very near future, said Parker. Most are at 'spontaneous sites' in Masisi, rather than at officially recognized camps. Some of these sites can be reached by lorry from the provincial capital, Goma.
 
Displaced people visited by IRIN in Rubaya, about 50km from Goma, on September 15 said they have had had no outside help since arriving there on July 23. Many in the crowd looked undernourished and in poor health. "We live like birds," said Charles Matito, a spokesman for the IDPs. "It's people here in Rubaya who give us something, a few potatoes now and then."
 
A camp of stick-and-grass huts was being erected in a field next to the main settlement. Some of the shelters were covered with plastic sheets, which Matito said the IDPs had brought from another camp at Katoyi. Many of the Rubaya IDPs had been at the Katoyi camp until it was attacked and emptied by the Raiya Mutomboki militia [ http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95626   ] in July.
 
Some of the displaced were sleeping in classrooms or a church at night but lacked shelter from the rain during the day. Devote Nyiranziza, who is at least six months pregnant, said she was worried about giving birth in these conditions.
 
About 7km further west from Rubaya is another spontaneous site at Kibabi. A spokesman for the IDPs there, Innocent Bahati, said on September 15 they had nothing to eat and no shelter. Aid agencies had visited, distributed vouchers for relief supplies and built eight latrines, but there has been no other assistance, he said.
 
IRIN has since learned that the NGO CARE has done a food distribution for 3,900 households at Rubaya, Kibabi and another settlement Kinigi.
 
Reaching spontaneous sites
 
According to its latest figures, WFP is giving food aid to 265,000 IDPs in North Kivu, out of a total displaced population of about 680,000. The food has been concentrated on the 31 camps in the province that are officially recognized by the government and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
 
Most of these are in Rutshuru and Masisi, densely populated areas with a history of frequent displacements. Only two are in Walikale.
 
Agencies find it much easier to assist people at official camps, but many of the recently displaced have gathered at spontaneous sites.
 
"There are many reasons for this," said Parker. "It might be proximity to their village of origin, or ethnic composition at the site or at organized camps. It's a big challenge to assist those people because they don't go through official registration processes, so it's very difficult to get accurate numbers on them."
 
UNHCR's Christophe Beau, head of the North Kivu Protection Cluster, a humanitarian network, suggested many IDPs head for areas they know because they lack information about security conditions in official camps, several of which have been attacked in recent months.
 
"It's important that IDPs know, as soon as possible, where they can go to find security, and that the authorities know where the security conditions can be offered," he said.
 
WFP is now working on ways to reach the spontaneous sites. Road conditions rather than security are the biggest issue, a staff member indicated. The agency's own workers have not been targeted by armed groups in recent months, except when a team was detained for a few hours by the Alliance des Patriotes pour un Congo Libre et Souverain (APCLS), an armed group that controls part of western Masisi.
nl/rz [END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=96378



In Brief: CAR refugees face urgent needs in DRC

NAIROBI, 5 September 2012 (IRIN) - More than 1,700 people who fled attacks in the Central African Republic (CAR) have streamed into neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, aid agencies say.

"This population, estimated at 1,727 people, are fleeing atrocities being committed by armed elements who  invaded their home villages since June 2012, forcing them to cross the Ubangi River and seek refuge in the DRC," according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). [ http://www.ifrc.org/docs/Appeals/12/MDRCD012.pdf ]

The refugees, from the eastern CAR villages of Gbasiki and Gbazamba, are now living in the northern DRC villages of Pendu and Guele "in precarious conditions and [they] require urgent assistance," the Federation said.

They have little access to potable water or food, according to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"They lack both food and non-food items. The refugees are 5 times more numerous than the local population," Yvon Edoumou, public information officer for OCHA in DRC, told IRIN.

"Pregnant mothers are giving birth in unhealthy conditions," he said, adding that the refugees' only source of water was the Ubangi River, which is also a source of waterborne disease.
ko/am/rz [END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=96249



DRC: Bushmeat blamed for Ebola outbreak

KINSHASA, 23 August 2012 (IRIN) - Health officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo's north-eastern Orientale Province are urging the population to desist from activities that could put them at risk of contracting the Ebola virus, including contact with infected individuals and the consumption of bushmeat.

At least 10 people in the province had died from suspected Ebola by 20 August, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO) [ http://www.afro.who.int/en/clusters-a-programmes/dpc/epidemic-a-pandemic-alert-and-response/outbreak-news/3665-ebola-outbreak-in-democratic-republic-of-congo-update-20-august-2012.html ], which first reported the outbreak on 17 August. Local sources say the first symptoms were spotted about a month ago.

Nine of the deaths - which included three health workers - occurred in the district of Isiro, and one occurred in Dungu District. WHO reports a total of 15 cases so far, 13 probable and two confirmed.

"The death case we got in Dungu was a hunter. Once in the bush he saw a dead antelope and did not care to ask why it had died. He immediately took [the carcass] and went to eat it... He fell sick and passed away," said the DRC's Health Minister Kabange Numbi.

Bushmeat

Bushmeat - the meat of wild animals, including hoofed animals, primates and rodents - is often the main source of animal protein available to people in parts of the DRC. It is also a livelihood source for people in the Congo basin, according to a 2011 paper [ http://www.cifor.org/publications/pdf_files/articles/ANasi1101.pdf ] by the Center for International Forestry Research.

According to WHO [ http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en ], "Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals." Fruit bats are considered to be the natural host of the virus.

"Ebola virus is an animal disease, and when people are having contact with animals in bushes, as people some in parts of our country rely on bush meat for their livelihood... and don't care to avoid eating meat they've got from dead animals that they often find in bushes [they risk contracting the disease]," said Mondoge Vitale, head of disease control at WHO's Kinshasa office.

The strain of Ebola in the Congo has been identified as Ebola-Bundibugyo - named for a Ugandan district that borders the DRC. The western district of Kibaale [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/96010/UGANDA-Containment-worries-as-Ebola-numbers-rise ] in neighbouring Uganda was recently hit by an outbreak of another strain, Ebola-Sudan, which killed at least 16 people.

There is no vaccine for the highly infectious disease, which causes fever and bleeding from orifices and can cause death within days. The fatality rate for the Bundibugyo strain is estimated at about 40 percent. [ http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/16/12/10-0627_article.htm ]

Jacques Gumbaluka, chief of the Haut-Uele health zone in Isiro, said that about one month ago a number of children under age five presented at health centres with anaemia. Then adults began to be admitted with unexplained bleeding and fever. "You have to know that the blood flows in vessels, but when the blood is flowing out of vessels it is a big problem, it becomes a drama," he said.

Containment

Contingency measures have been put in place to contain the outbreak. The health ministry has established national- and district-level taskforces and is working with partners, including the NGO Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and WHO.

"The measures include the sensitization of the communities, protection of health workers - in the zone where the outbreak has been declared they have been given protection equipment... We have beefed up the screening at Kisangani Port [a commercial hub in Orientale Province] to watch the outbreak across the Congo River toward the capital, Kinshasa," said Numbi. "[We are also] reinforcing screening at Kisangani Airport for passengers coming and going out it to other countries' airports."

Orientale Province borders the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Uganda. South Sudan is already on high alert [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/96011/SOUTH-SUDAN-Preparing-for-Ebola-or-not ] following the outbreak in neighbouring Uganda.

MSF has deployed experts to set up isolation facilities and surveillance systems in affected areas, but officials say their work is being hampered by a lack of information. "As long as the surveillance system is not properly enforced, we are not sure whether we may have missed some cases who have not been in contact with health facilities," said Olympia de la Rosa, a health adviser in MSF's Emergency Unit.

The DRC has experienced several fatal Ebola outbreaks in the past. In 1976, at least 280 people died from the Ebola-Zaire strain, which killed another 250 people in 1995 and 187 in 2007, according to the CDC. [ http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/spb/mnpages/dispages/ebola/ebolatable.htm ]

pc/kr/rz [END] This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=96160


DRC: More help needed to control livestock disease outbreak

KINSHASA, 22 August 2012 (IRIN) - The Ministry of Agriculture in the Democratic Republic of Congo has called for more support to control an epidemic of peste des petits ruminants (PPR), a contagious viral disease that has already killed [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95906/DRC-Livestock-disease-hits-small-farmers-in-west ] tens of thousands of goats and sheep.

Prosper Kabambi, head of the animal health department at the ministry, told IRIN that there needs to be more control of animal movements; he said goats and sheep were still transiting through Kikwit, the capital of Bandundu Province, where the outbreak is centred, without being checked for the disease.

"The mayor of Kikwit ordered a ban on uncontrolled entry and exit, but it's hard to say this is strictly applied," he said. "People give a bit of money to the police and their animals are allowed to pass."

Kikwit is a regional hub; it is on the main road from the capital, Kinshasa, to the northern province of Equateur and the western Kasai provinces.

In June, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said [ http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/150317/icode/ ] this PPR outbreak was "the worst livestock epidemic in the country in more than 10 years", and warned that, left unchecked, it could cross over into southern African countries that have never been affected.

Kabambi said that a plan for mass vaccination of goats is now being urgently revised. FAO has agreed to fund free vaccinations for a half a million goats at a cost of US$500,000. The mass vaccination was to have started on 11 August but has been postponed while more up-to-date information is collected on the extent of the outbreak.

"The initial idea was to vaccinate goats in a sanitary cordon around the contaminated area, but the disease has now spread to so many places that we are planning to target certain areas instead of a cordon."

Millions at risk

The epidemic was declared in May, but the virulence of the outbreak was already evident in 2011. "People have been talking about the disease since December, but for months the government did nothing," said Didier Mboma, a journalist based in Kikwit.

Official figures suggest that 24,000 goats had died of the disease in the territory of Masi-Manimba - one of nine territories in Bandundu Province - in the six months leading up to February. Since then, the death toll among goats has been revised upwards to more than 100,000. Sheep, which are not numerous in Bandundu, have also been dying.

The government has said that a million goats are at risk, but that figure could be an underestimate. "We thought there were only 560,000 goats in Masi-Manimba, but our latest information suggests there were more than a million," said Kabambi. "Farmers tend to underreport their animals to avoid tax."

In the past month, some Congolese sources, including Roger Penekoko, a provincial official, and Leopold Mulumba, head of the veterinary laboratory in Kinshasa, have said the disease is stabilizing in Masi-Manimba. Kabambi said this meant the disease had peaked in the territory, but it would continue to kill goats, particularly newborns, which have no immunity.

Masi-Manimba is one of 191 territories in the DRC; Xavier Farhey, a spokesman for FAO, said a number of other territories had higher goat populations than Masi-Manimba.

FAO's representative in DRC, Ndiaga Gueye, has said the $500,000 for a vaccination campaign is just an initial response to the outbreak and much more funding will be needed to control the disease.

Vaccinations will cost about $0.50 for the vaccine plus the cost of the cold chain - the refrigeration system required to keep vaccines potent - transport and personnel. Persuading owners to group their flocks together for vaccination will be key to reducing the cost of the campaign.

In July, the Kinshasa veterinary laboratory began producing viral vaccines for the first time in more than two decades, and will be able to produce them at lower cost than imported vaccines, Mulumba said.

But he said the laboratory had not been given the reagent to produce a vaccine against PPR, so for the time being it will concentrate on producing vaccines against Newcastle disease, which affects poultry, and rabies.

Impact on livelihoods

PPR is not transmissible to humans, but its economic consequences could be severe.

"In this country, we say goats are the poor man's cows," said Lemba Mabela, head of animal husbandry at the Ministry of Agriculture. "Every financial problem the poor have is settled with goats."

A recent emergency mission by the Crisis Management Centre - Animal Health, jointly operated by FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), reported that current PPR outbreaks are particularly lethal, with an 86 percent mortality rate in goats.

The government and FAO have discussed the possibility of slaughtering goats as a control measure. Asked if the government was going to organize a slaughter, the agriculture minister Jean Chrysostome Vahamwiti told IRIN, "We haven't decided explicitly because that would require compensating the owners, and parliament has just reduced the government's budget."

Kabambi said a slaughter might still be the best option: "A recent outbreak in Morocco was quelled after the army surrounded the contaminated area and all the goats inside it were killed. But the contaminated area was probably smaller than what we have here."

Animals that have died of the disease are still safe for human consumption, according to Kabambi and Mulumba. Kabambi said that if there were more cold storage facilities in Bandundu, or if trucks with freezer units could be made available, so that the meat could be preserved, the cost of compensating farmers for a slaughter would be lower. Goat meat can also be smoked or cured using traditional methods, but this sharply reduces its value.

PPR was first confirmed in DRC in 2008, though it had long been suspected. Outbreaks have also occurred in Kenya, Morocco, Tanzania and Uganda in the past five years.

nl/kr/rz [END] This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=96151



DRC: Violence hampers aid work in Ituri

BUNIA, 21 August 2012 (IRIN) - Inter-ethnic tensions have again turned violent in north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo's Ituri region, compromising the delivery of humanitarian aid to more than 100,000 people, according to officials there.

Some 13 civilians have been killed in recent weeks, according to civil society sources.

An estimated 60,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed in Ituri between 1998 and 2003 as ethnically aligned armed groups vied for control of power and resources, notably gold deposits. [ http://www.irinnews.org/In-depth/70733/33/Ituri-in-Eastern-DRC ]

According to a 27 July memo by a coalition of civil society organizations, the decomposed bodies of five members of the Hema community were found in Kapuru, a settlement on the shore of Lake Albert in an area under the control of the Front de la resistance patriotique en Ituri (FRPI) armed group, about 100km south of Bunia, Ituri's main city.

"The rebels captured six of them as they were heading to Uganda to visit a sick relative, demanding money," recounted the brother of one of the victims.

"The rebels said, 'You have refused to join our group, we're going to kill you,' and they opened fire. One of them escaped after the rebels cut off his hand with a machete," he added.

The spokesperson for the Hema-sud community, Aliegera Kwonke, said, "We in the Hema community feel targeted. The FRPI don't allow us to go about our business, our roads are blocked, our crops looted. Our people are massacred under the noses of the army. We don't feel safe."

A few days after the bodies were found, a member of the Ngity community disappeared in the same area, prompting demonstrations in the lakeside villages of Nyamavi and Soni by Ngity youths brandishing machetes and other weapons.

On 2 August, the population of Ndimo, 160km southwest of Bunia, barricaded the road leading to North Kivu Province and displayed the corpses of five people killed by unidentified assailants.

"We call on our Ituri brothers to consider the lives of others, not to swallow the bait of the enemies of peace," said Ignace Bingi, the chairman of the Ituri Community of Religious Faiths.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 11 humanitarian projects in southern Ituri dealing with shelter, water, sanitation, civilian protection and food security had been affected.

"Humanitarians are afraid to use the roads because every day something happens. Even medical supplies have to be hidden for fear of looting or being taken by one armed group or another," said Francesca Fraccaroli, the head of OCHA's office in Orientale province.

In July, two of Ituri's territories - Mambasa and Irumu - were found to be in a state of "acute food security and livelihood crisis" after data about household food consumption, livelihoods, nutrition and mortality had been analysed.

Failed talks

In April, the UN stabilization mission in DRC, MONUSCO, had offered to help the national army (FARDC) neutralize the FRPI, but the government came out in favour of talks with the group, said Bill Tchagbele , MONUSCO spokesman in Ituri.

Informal talks took place in May, but an agreement reached the following month for the group's fighters to be confined to their bases broke down on 9 July following clashes between government forces and the FRPI in Koga, about 100km south of Bunia on the shores of Lake Albert.

"It's as if people have been taken hostage. The situation has become more complicated because of the war in eastern DRC [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95715/DRC-Understanding-armed-group-M23 ]. FARDC elements here deployed to the Kivus and the rebels moved in to fill the gap," said Tchagbele.

MONUSCO, which has 4,000 troops in northeast DRC, recently set up temporary bases in locations to the South of Bunia-Kasenyi, Kabona and Kagaba - where rebels and militia groups operate.

"We can't put a soldier behind every civilian to protect them," conceded Tchagbele.

According to FARDC operational chief of staff General Dieudonné Amuli, FRPI leader Cobra Matata has again agreed to group his fighters in three sites. These have been identified as Gety, Kagaba and Aveba - 50, 75 and 90km south of Bunia respectively. But as of August 20, no actual disarmament had begun.

Armed groups have generally blamed the army for the failure of previous agreements.

"How can we trust negotiations and dialogue when the FRPI and COGAI [Coalition of Ituri Armed Groups*] are subject to provocation, attack and false accusations?" said COGAI spokesman Jean Eneko when IRIN contacted him by phone.

Eneko denied any involvement in the recent killings.

"This is manipulation by people in Bunia under the orders from Kinshasa, which sets back negotiations and leads us to make threats, such as the one to march on Bunia," he added.

Links to M23

District commissioner Freddy Bosomba said, "There will be no war. We have buried too many people. Do we need to keep killing? No, we will stand up to them."

"There are certain people here in Ituri who have relations with the M23 rebels. There are infiltrators, they want to start a war. But the people must denounce them," Bosomba said, addressing an emergency meeting of Ituri community leaders on 8 August.

In July, FARDC arrested a FARDC colonel on suspicion of recruiting for M23 in Bunia.

The man who led the mutiny that evolved into M23, Bosco Ntaganda, used to be the deputy head of an Ituri rebel group opposed to the FRPI, the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC).

In July 2012, UPC leader Thomas Lubanga was convicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to 14 years imprisonment for recruiting children. Ntaganda faces similar charges before the court but remains at large.

FRPI founding leader, Germain Katanga, is currently on trial at the ICC.

*Earlier this year FRPI's Matata forged an alliance with three other armed groups in Ituri: the Front populaire pour le développement durable de l'Ituri (led by d'Eneko Kila), the Force armée pour la révolution ("Kabuli") and the Forces armées d'Intégration de l'Ituri (Charité Semire). Collectively, these groups want a government amnesty and for Ituri to be elevated from a district to a full-fledged province of DRC.

rp/am/rz [END] This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=96144



DRC: Children, young men flee M23 recruitment

KINSHASA, 16 August 2012 (IRIN) - Thousands of children and young men are fleeing rebel-held areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo's eastern North Kivu Province to escape forced recruitment by the insurgents, NGOs say.

"One day, five rebels of M23 stormed our town [Rugari, north of Goma, the capital of North Kivu]. They went to the chief asking him to show them all houses where they can find young men. The chief resisted, they tied him up and went on searching into houses until they arrested 36 children and [took] them away to train as fighters," said Barthelemy Schilogolo, head of local the NGO, Paix et Justice pour la Reconciliation, told IRIN.

M23 - a group of former DRC national army (FARDC) soldiers who mutinied [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95715/DRC-Understanding-armed-group-M23 ] in April - is fighting government troops in North and South Kivu; the conflict has caused the displacement of close to half a million people [ http://www.unhcr.org/501286b69.html ]. A number of other local militias - known as Mai Mai - are involved in the conflict and have also been accused of human rights abuses.

According to Schilogolo, M23 fighters are under pressure to increase recruitment. "Every two days, commanders of M23 come from Bunagana [an M23-held town on the DRC-Uganda border] to Rugari for regular patrols to control how their fighters are keeping positions. I've witnessed areas where a front commander is forcefully picked up when he failed to show how many recruits he recruited," he said.

The NGO World Vision recently highlighted the issue [ http://reliefweb.int/report/democratic-republic-congo/%E2%80%98worrying-signs%E2%80%99-children-are-fleeing-drc-avoid-forced-recruitment ], reporting that nearly 200 children had been forced to join the fighting. The group says the majority of refugees - an estimated 57,000, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs - fleeing into neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda are children, with some reporting that they were fleeing recruitment into armed groups.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has also documented [ http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/ForcedRecruitment.aspx ] over 100 civilians forcibly recruited by M23 over the past four months, most of whom were young men aged 24 and under.

Auguy Sebisimbo was forcefully recruited alongside 15 other youths - including children as young as 12 - by M23 in July in his home area of Rutshuru, the main town in the area controlled by M23.

"They took us to Bunanga, gave us arms and military uniforms without any training apart from a few exercises to show us how to shoot a gun," he told IRIN.

A week into his capture, he fled during a fierce, day-long battle between M23 and FARDC forces; now back at home, he says the conflict continues to make his life difficult. "We are existing but feeling like we are not, because if the rebels recruit you by force and send you to the front line you may die. If not, it is not easy to endure the heavy gunshots that traumatize you. It is like you are dead," he said.

According to a statement [ http://monusco.unmissions.org/Default.aspx?tabid=10662&ctl=Details&mid=13890&ItemID=19268&language=en-US ] by the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), at least 26 children are documented as having been forcibly recruited by M23 since April 2012, although reports indicate that the actual number is significantly higher; overall, the mission reports that more than 150 children have been recruited by armed groups in eastern DRC since the beginning of 2012. Individuals interviewed described how they were forced to carry looted goods, supplies and ammunition over long distances. Upon arrival at their destinations, they were handed uniforms and weapons and underwent military training in camps.

It added that there were also reports of the execution of civilians who resisted recruitment.

"Whilst forced recruitment by various armed groups has long characterized conflict in the DRC, numbers have increased substantially since the upsurge of recent hostilities in the east, and in particular the actions of the M23 in Rutshuru territory, North-Kivu Province," Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of MONUSCO Roger Meece said in the statement. "Using children and youth in armed conflict will create generations trained in violence, tearing apart the fabric of Congolese society."

pc/kr/rz [END] This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=96117




SOUTH AFRICA/Democratic Rep. of Congo:

Marie, "It's been a long journey and a painful one"

JOHANNESBURG, 1 August 2012 (IRIN) - Marie*, her husband and their three children, refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are about to relocate from South Africa, where they have lived for the past decade, to Australia where they have been accepted into that country's refugee resettlement programme.

Globally, there are only about 80,000 resettlement places available each year in 26 countries, meaning that the vast majority of refugees will either remain in camps for long periods, eventually integrate into their host countries or return home.

Marie talked to IRIN about why she and her family have been unable to either return home to DRC or settle in South Africa.

"I grew up with my auntie who married a Rwandese. He was like my father and their kids were my sisters, but they looked Rwandese and it was a time in Congo when there was trouble between Rwandese and Congolese.

"My uncle ran away and my husband and I were taking care of those kids so we were also attacked. We saw people being killed with burning tyres around their necks just because they were Rwandese. This was in Kinshasa but it was happening everywhere.

"We were scattered, but my direction was to save those kids, to get them to family members in Goma. There are many Rwandese in Goma so I thought it would be safer for them, but [the Rwandese there] were informed about their brothers being killed in Kinshasa so they wanted revenge on everyone who came from there. They attacked me in every way you can think about. They put us in prison; their plan was to kill us slowly.

"I managed to escape when the volcano (Mount Nyiragongo) was erupting. I went to Tanzania and then Zambia where I gave birth to my daughter. Then I arrived in South Africa in 2002.

"I didn't know where my husband was, there was no way for us to communicate. Then we met at [the Department of] Home Affairs in Johannesburg. We were both going for extension to our asylum permits. So we reunited.

"But then one day I discovered my son was bleeding from the mouth. I took him to the hospital and they said they couldn't help. They knew he had haemophilia, but they chased us away and threatened to call the police.

"We stayed nine months without treatment [for him]. We weren't working and we didn't speak English at that time, but I kept taking him back to the hospital. Then JRS [Jesuit Refugee Services] started advocating for us.

"Finally, the hospital agreed [to treat my son], but when we were there, the nurses still let us know we were foreigners and then when my third baby was born with the same problem, they again said they didn't have medicine.

"By 2007, JRS had been helping us all along, we were burdening them. They forwarded our case to UNHCR. The first time I came there, I talked to a social worker for five hours and she said she'd try to resettle us.

"The first country that came up was the US. They came here to interview us and everything went smoothly but when they discovered the children had haemophilia, we could see their attitude change. After waiting for nearly two years, we were rejected.

"After the US, it was Canada, but after they heard about the kids, they started looking for mistakes in our story, and then they rejected us. That was another one and a half years. I'm a university graduate but I thought I was doing something wrong in the interviews.

"Finally, UNHCR forwarded our case to Australia. It was a year plus some months ago that we had the interview. They looked into the medical issue and said the treatment was expensive, but they talked to UNHCR to try to find a solution. Then we got a call a couple of weeks ago that we're leaving on 30 July. We're going to Brisbane, we just heard today. We don't have any information about it.

"We don't have anything here in South Africa, so there's nothing to prepare. We're not accepted here, nothing was working for us. Sometimes there's an emergency with the boys. Everywhere you go, you're watching your phone in case the teacher calls and I have to get to the school. Every time they're bleeding, they have to give them medication intravenously that costs R2,300 [US$280] and sometimes they don't have the medication at all.

"I'm so excited to be leaving this country, but it's been a long journey and a painful one."

*Not her real name
ks/cb [END] This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95995





DRC: Concerns over cholera mount amid clashes

NAIROBI, 25 July 2012 (IRIN) - Conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where M23 rebels [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95715/DRC-Understanding-armed-group-M23 ] and other armed groups are fighting government forces, is dangerously undermining efforts to combat a cholera outbreak.

There has been "a sharp increase in the number of cholera cases in the armed conflict area of North Kivu" Province, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement. [ http://www.who.int/csr/don/2012_07_23/en/index.html  ]

Between 11 June and 1 July some 368 new cases were reported in the province, WHO said, naming the most affected areas as Birambizo, Goma, Karisimbi, Kiroshe, Mutwanga, Mweso and Rwanguba.

According to the International Medical Corps (IMC), [ http://internationalmedicalcorps.org/international-medical-corps-evacuates-walikale-amid-heavy-fighting ] there have been some 15,000 new cases of cholera in eastern DRC over recent months.

"There is concern that the security situation may increase difficulty in accessing the healthcare facilities and could increase the number of severe and fatal cases. The current armed conflict in North Kivu also poses a risk of international spread of the disease to neighbouring countries such as Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda," WHO warned, adding that cholera is endemic to North Kivu and five other provinces in eastern DRC.

"Insufficient access to safe water supply remains the main cause of the epidemic," the statement said.

World Vision, some of whose staff were among 60 aid workers who evacuated the North Kivu town of Walikale after clashes there between government forces and the Raia Mutomboki armed group, [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95626 ] said fighting in the town "forced the suspension of efforts to combat a deadly cholera outbreak".

As a result of the evacuation, which World Vision said could last several weeks, "projects to counter cholera have been temporarily halted, including the rehabilitation of water points, hygiene training, water purification, and latrine construction."

A representative of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) who asked not to be named said of the fighting, which began on 17 July: "People were trying to run to the bush/forest during the fighting itself but some were caught up in it. It was three days of on-and-off, open fighting in the streets."

A few days later Walikale was said to be calm but very tense. "People don't know what will happen,", said the MSF source.

The evacuation meant MSF had to suspend its activities in Walikale, where the medical charity was treating more than 1,000 people per week for malaria in a programme that started only the previous month.

Many of those benefiting from the programme had sought refuge in the dense forest around the town having fled previous bouts of fighting, MSF said. [ http://www.msf.ca/fr/actualites-media/nouvelles/2012/07/violence-forces-suspension-of-work-in-walikale/ ]

"Any further displacement caused by this violence will only exacerbate their vulnerability to this deadly disease," said Andrew Mews, MSF's head of mission in Goma, the provincial capital.

IMC's departure from Walikale has led to the suspension there of its primary health care services, clinical management of the rape cases that are a frequent characteristic of the conflict in eastern DRC, as well as interventions designed to prevent malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory illnesses.

Confusion

A local source told IRIN that the fighting is now happening in so many different places in North Kivu that people are struggling to find safe refuge - they feel relentlessly pursued by the sense that fighting might be about to start.

A resident of Rutshuru, a town that was briefly held by M23 rebels when they took it without force earlier in the month, said the sense of confusion is being compounded by the fact that it is increasingly hard to distinguish FARDC from M23 because they are in the same uniform.

At-risk groups such as children and the elderly are of growing concern to humanitarians unable to gain access to them. Many are becoming separated from families, which adds to their vulnerability.

HelpAge International, an NGO working to raise awareness of their invisibility in emergencies, is one of the organizations forced to cease operations in Walikale. A representative of the charity said they had noticed an increase in violence against old people as thieves see them as easy targets. HelpAge has recorded incidents including the theft of food rations and the beating of one elderly displaced person.

The latest situation report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) [ http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/OCHA%20Situation%20Report%20No%202%20-%20North%20Kivu%20DRC%20-%2022%20July%202012_0.pdf ] describes a deteriorating security situation that has led to more than 220,000 displaced within North Kivu, and 54,000 others having crossed into Rwanda and Uganda to escape the violence.

The report also cites numerous protection incidents including sexual violence, child soldier recruitment, and community violence. jh-am/cb[END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95950


DRC: Livestock disease hits small farmers in west

KINSHASA, 19 July 2012 (IRIN) - Thousands of goat farmers in parts of Bandundu Province in western Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are counting their losses after an outbreak of the deadly livestock disease peste des petits ruminants (PPR).

"[Livestock] farmers have become miserable with many unable to sustain their livelihoods after the death of their goats and sheep," Romain Badalalabuna, chairman of the livestock farmers' association in the worst-hit area, Masimanimba Territory, told IRIN.

Badalalabuna, who is also the chief veterinarian there, had a flock of 38 goats, but 30 have died.

PPR symptoms include lassitude, fever, discharges from the eyes and nose, sores in the mouth, laboured breathing and diarrhoea.

The disease was first reported in 2012 in the Bandundu district of Kwango before spreading to Masimanimba where it has killed an estimated 24,000 sheep and goats, according to Anne Mbusu, Masimanimba Territory's administrator. It has also spread to neighbouring Bas-Congo, Equateur and Kasai provinces.

The current outbreak is particularly lethal, with an 86 percent mortality rate in goats, according to a statement [ http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/150317/icode/ ] by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which said DRC is believed to have been infected since 2008 when the provinces of Bas-Congo and Kinshasa reported PPR outbreaks.

Masimanimba was home to 560,000 goats and sheep before the current outbreak.

The local authorities have been trying to raise awareness of the disease. "We went to radio stations to sensitize farmers that it was in their interest to slaughter animals that have caught the disease to protect those farmers that haven't been affected yet," said Mbusu.

PPR is not spread from livestock to humans.

Just over 80,000 goats and 40 sheep have died in Bandundu, according to Roger Penekoko, a provincial official in charge of agriculture, livestock and fisheries.

The deaths have affected household incomes and could affect nutrition too.

"My goats were like a bank account for me. I could sell a goat to pay school fees, or hospital fees whenever a member of my family fell sick," Dephin Mferre, a goat farmer, told IRIN.

Of Mferre's initial flock of 21 goats, 20 have died since April, meaning that he is now unable to prepare his five children for the next school year.

Sheep and goats are generally kept by poor farmers - those least able to absorb the loss of one of their few assets, says FAO.

No compensation

Government compensation for affected farmers has been ruled out. "Bandundu Province has a small budget of US$250,000. We don't have a budget for emergencies like this disease," said Penekoko, noting that the disease had stabilized in Masimanimba and other parts of Bandundu Province but that the vaccination of healthy animals was yet to start.

PPR, which is caused by a virus, is vaccine preventable.

FAO said the outbreak was a threat to DRC food security and could spread to southern African countries which have never had it. The government estimates that one million goats and 600,000 sheep are at risk of contracting PPR - a quarter of goats and two-thirds of sheep in the country.

In response to the current outbreak, farmers have been moving their animals away from infected villages to where, so far, there have been no outbreaks, said FAO representative in the DRC Ndiaga Gueye.

According to FAO, PPR, like rinderpest, can be eradicated "should there be the political will".

"Excellent vaccines exist to protect small ruminants from PPR, and these can be a key weapon in combating it," said Juan Lubroth, FAO's chief veterinary officer.

FAO will provide funds for vaccinating at least 500,000 sheep and goats in areas that are not yet affected as well as other control measures such as limiting animal movements, awareness-raising and increasing surveillance. pc/aw/cb[END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95906




DRC: Top officials warn against witch-hunts, hate speech

KINSHASA, 13 July 2012 (IRIN) - Officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have assured leaders of the Tutsi community they are working to protect Tutsis across the country amid rising resentment sparked by a mutiny led mainly by Tutsi soldiers in the east.

Minister of Security and Internal Affairs Charles Muyej said he had given instructions to this effect to governors across the vast country.

"I think we have to realize that we are one people with many components. This diversity is an asset for our country. We insist that this is not the time to discriminate because of what is happening in the east. We must remain united," he said.

The minister was speaking on 12 July after receiving a delegation of Tutsi leaders led by Azarias Ruberwa, a former vice-president and also, until a 2003 peace deal ended years of conflict, the leader of a rebellion based in the east.

 "The Tutsi community's message is one of peace," Ruberwa told reporters after the meeting. "No one should be harassed or threatened because of their physical appearance. We want our fellow countrymen to understand that members of the Tutsi community want to see the fighting in North Kivu [http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95836/Briefing-Crisis-in-North-Kivu] end as soon as possible," he said.

On 11 July some senior members of the ruling Parti populaire pour la reconstruction du Congo (PPRD) threatened to hunt down Tutsis and "send them back to Rwanda".

The following day, Information Minister Lambert Mende suspended the head of the national broadcasting company (RTNC) for not halting the live broadcast of the political rally where these threats were made.

 "That the message was broadcast on state TV without being interrupted makes the station responsible for creating potential insecurity for certain ethnic groups.. We have learnt that certain malicious elements, manipulated by those behind the attacks in our country, who are in Rwanda, wanted to give the impression [that Tutsis are being targeted.]
So such dubious messages risk giving the impression that the government is behind such actions, which is not the case. This is why the government took firm action against the RTNC director," said Mende.

Peace message

 While DRC has accused Rwanda, where Tutsis are seen to dominate the government, of backing the M23 rebel group [http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95715/DRC-Understanding-armed-group-M23], many Tutsis have lived in DRC all their lives and consider themselves Congolese nationals.

André Kimbuta Yango the governor of Kinshasa and Kinshasa chairman of the PPRD, also issued a message of peace.

 "Kinshasa residents, I don't want to hear that you are hunting down our brothers from the Tutsi community living in the capital. Soldiers from their community within our army are also dying like any other soldiers from other communities," he said.

The officials' remarks follow incidents in the North Kivu capital, Goma, which lies on the Rwandan border and where street children and motorcycle taxi drivers recently went on the rampage, attacking those perceived to be Rwandans or Tutsis.

"They would catch anyone who looks like a Rwandan and beat him and take them to the Rwandan border," said a witness to such events, Junior Kambale. UN envoy to DRC Roger Meece also spoke out against such hostile actions.

"People who take up arms for their so-called claims [of Tutsi persecution] have already committed serious crimes, which is contributing to extend the cycle of violence," he said.

 "Civilians are the ones suffering and keep paying the price of the situation. It is very important to reach an understanding, to get together for regular talks in order to reduce tension, as more tension between communities will worsen the problem," he told reporters. pc/am/cb[END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95864




Briefing: Crisis in North Kivu

GOMA, 10 July 2012 (IRIN) - Some 220,000 people have been freshly displaced in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since a group of former rebels integrated into the national army (FARDC) mutinied and began capturing towns and territory in North Kivu Province, often in the face of minimal resistance.

With the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in eastern DRC topping two million for the first time since 2009 and amid fears that the rebels are closing in on the regional capital, Goma, humanitarian needs are growing dramatically, especially for shelter, water and sanitation, health, food and non-food items.

There are significant regional dimensions: around 20,000 people, including 600 FARDC soldiers, have sought refuge in Rwanda and Uganda - where officials said they were overwhelmed by the influx [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95830/UGANDA-Refugee-influx-prompts-government-call-for-regional-talks ]- while Kigali stands accused of backing the mutineers, a charge it vehemently denies.

What's behind the current fighting?

For many decades, the interwoven issues of citizenship (who is a real Congolese?) land rights and ethnicity, coupled with the absence of effective state authority and the presence of rich mineral deposits, have driven instability and armed conflict in the eastern DRC, whose Tutsi inhabitants have been particularly caught up in the tension between "indigenous" and "settler" populations. Much of the fighting during the 1996-1997 and 1998-2003 Congo wars took place in the east.

After Tutsi rebels (RPF) overthrew the Hutu government in Rwanda during the 1994 state-sponsored genocide, hundreds of thousands of Hutus, including many who carried out the killings in Rwanda, crossed the border into eastern DRC. Some of these militia formed the core of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a group which exists to this day, and which twice led Kigali to send troops into DRC to back Congolese Tutsi armed groups.

The roots of the Tutsi-led M23, [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95715/DRC-Understanding-armed-group-M23 ] the name used by today's mutineers, are intertwined with this back story. Its leader, Bosco Ntaganda, fought with the RPF during the 1994 fall of Kigali, and served as deputy leader, then leader of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), a group established in 2006 with the professed intent of protecting North Kivu's Tutsis from the FDLR. (Like the CNDP boss he ousted, Laurent Nkunda, Ntaganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court, ICC, on war crimes charges. Kinshasa has declined to act on the ICC's arrest warrant, saying Ntaganda was key to restoring stability in North Kivu)

In April 2012, Ntaganda and some of his followers defected from the ranks of the FARDC, accusing the government of failing to live up to the terms of a deal [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/83661/DRC-Kivus-move-closer-to-peace-but-risks-remain ] that led to the CNDP's transformation into a political party and the integration of its forces into the army and police. This deal was struck on 23 March 2009, hence the name M23. The group cited administrative reforms and the return of Tutsi refugees from Rwanda as the unfulfilled terms of the 2009 accord.

What progress has M23 made since April?
 
In May, the defectors announced that they were operating under the new leadership of Col Sultani Makenga. M23 took advantage of a ceasefire by the FARDC to move from the former CNDP stronghold of Masisi District east to Runyoni, a strategic peak in the Virunga national park, where the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and DRC meet. The rebels made initial gains in May before being pushed back by FARDC, but as allegations emerged that Rwanda may be supporting the rebels in June, they displayed a new show of strength.

On 6 July, M23 took control of Bunagana, the strategic mining town in Rutshuru District on the Ugandan border. They then advanced to take four more towns in the district, according to rebel leader Col Makenga. "We will withdraw and leave them to MONUSCO [UN Stabilization Mission in DRC] and national police," he told AFP. Notably, the rebels said they would not hand the towns back to FARDC. "We are not there to take the towns but to get our voices heard," he added.

How has overall security in North Kivu been affected?
 
As FARDC committed resources to fighting M23, the security situation in other parts of the Kivu provinces degenerated rapidly. Elements of the various militia collectively known as Mai Mai increased their military activities, including, in North Kivu's Masisi territory, Mai Mai Kifuafua, which has formed an alliance with Raia Mutomboki, another Mai Mai group. Police blamed this coalition for the massacre of more than 200 people in a dozen attacks over a few days in mid-May. [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95626/DRC-Scores-killed-as-Mai-Mai-target-Kinyarwanda-speakers ] Witnesses said the attackers announced they wanted to kill anyone who spoke Kinyarwanda, the language spoken in Rwanda.

To the north, the head of another Mai Mai group with alleged ties to M23, Gen Kakule Sikula Lafontaine, led an assault on an army base in North Kivu's Lubero Territory in early June.

In Walikale territory to the west, as FARDC soldiers were redeployed elsewhere, FDLR moved in. Some towns have seen peaceful transfers of power from FARDC to other armed groups. In Pinga, for example, FARDC was replaced by the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS), a Mai Mai group based in Masisi that purports to protect the Hunde ethnic group against the threat purportedly posed by Kinyarwanda speakers. FARDC's eventual return to such settlements is likely to provoke further conflict.

What is Rwanda's role in M23?

None at all, according to the government in Kigali. However, at the beginning of June, Human Rights Watch released a report [ http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/06/03/dr-congo-rwanda-should-stop-aiding-war-crimes-suspect-0 ] alleging that Rwanda had recruited, trained and armed members of M23. Later that month, an addendum to a report by the UN Group of Experts on the DRC [ http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2012/348/Add.1 ] went further, saying Rwanda had assisted directly in the creation of the movement by transporting soldiers and equipment through Rwanda. It also stated that the Rwandan national army made incursions into DRC to reinforce M23, and violated arms embargos and travel restrictions by supporting UN-sanctioned individuals, including Ntaganda. The addendum said M23 fighters included demobilized and repatriated FDLR members as well as Congolese refugees living in Rwanda.

The document named Rwandan Defence Minister James Kaberebe as having been "in constant contact with M23". It levelled similar charges against Chief of Defence Staff Lt Charles Kayonga, and Kagame's military adviser, Gen Jacques Nziza.

The document also presented evidence of Rwanda's alleged support of at least six other groups in the region. It said Rwanda had widened its activities in eastern DRC from supporting armed groups in a bid to assassinate FDLR leaders, to backing various army mutinies, in South as well as North Kivu, in the wake of elections held in 2011.

Rwandan President Kagame called the allegations "fictitious", while Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said in a statement that Rwanda intends to provide evidence that the Group of Experts' claims are false, and that DRC should take responsibility for failing to contain the mutiny. "It is demonstrably against Rwanda's interests to do anything that would risk destabilizing the region. We have worked vigorously with our Congolese counterparts to try and head off the rebellion," she said.

What is the humanitarian impact of the rebellion?
 
DRC offers a good example of "conflict fatigue". Humanitarian agencies, most based in Goma, are being stretched to their limits. [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95726/DRC-North-Kivu-displaced-need-more-help] The UN estimates that 220,000 people have been displaced in eastern DRC since December because of clashes and massacres of civilians. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is currently supporting 90,000 IDPs in 31 camps. In early July, UN peacekeepers abandoned their position at Bunagana, on the Ugandan border, following a new wave of fighting, which saw one Indian peacekeeper killed as the rebels took control of the town.

Civilian protection and humanitarian access are problematic because of conflict in both North and South Kivu, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). [ http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Briefing%20humanitaire%20RDC%206-07-12%20final.pdf ] Aid agencies lack the capacity to meet the basic needs of IDPs.

On the frontlines in the fighting between M23 and FARDC, civilians are stranded; others are perpetually on the move. The government is reluctant to endorse new IDP camps, the number of which has reduced by over a third since 2009. Many of the displaced are living in poor conditions in makeshift camps using existing public infrastructure. In Masisi Territory Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported a sharp rise in trauma wounds caused by machetes, spears and bullets, and said such cases accounted for 25 percent of all surgical admissions in Masisi hospital in the month of May, up from just 2 percent in April.

Meanwhile, across the country a cholera outbreak [ http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95384 ] has so far affected eight of the DRC's 11 provinces. Rwanguba general hospital near Rutshuru in North Kivu, has admitted more than 530 cases since the end of May.
 
What now?
 
Already, key members of the international community, including the United States have begun to formally express their concerns in writing to Kigali.

Despite claims that M23 is advancing on the North Kivu provincial capital Goma, the rebel army is still said to be 40km north of the city and recent statements suggest that having demonstrated their strength, they want to negotiate with the government rather than proceed with the military campaign. Witnesses say the news of rebel gains has panicked residents and thrown the city into turmoil. Congolese motorbike taxi drivers, described as "anti-Tutsi mobs" according to sources based in Goma, took to the streets alongside groups of youth on 9 July to protest against the insecurity.

Rwandan students have reportedly evacuated Goma, fearing reprisals for their national links to the rebel army.

In a statement, MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC, expressed concern about the rebel advances, and also reported unconfirmed allegations human rights violations in M23-controlled areas, and an attack on the prison at Rutshuru, which led to the release of detainees.

MONUSCO is also deploying attack helicopters. "In close coordination with the FARDC, [MONUSCO's] armed helicopters have been used for civilian protection purposes, with the aim of impeding the M23 advance. In addition, the Mission is redeploying its assets to ensure it is present in key forward bases in the area," said a UN press release. jh/am/cb[END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95836




DRC: North Kivu displaced need more help

NAIROBI, 25 June 2012 (IRIN) - Humanitarians are struggling to meet the basic needs of over 200,000 people recently displaced by clashes in North Kivu Province, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Access has been limited by the mountainous and volcanic terrain coupled with widespread, shifting insecurity.

Humanitarian agencies on the ground report urgent requirements in health care, food, water and sanitation, nutrition, shelter and non-food items. Most of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) are living in host families, while some have moved into schools, health centres and churches. In both cases, they are draining the already limited resources of their hosts.

While many Congolese are willing to take in IDPs, towns such as Rwanguba in North Kivu (on the road to Bunagana on the Ugandan border) are full to capacity. The displaced line the road by day, smoke rising from piles of volcanic rock, with clothes laid out to dry as they try to go about their household chores while perpetually on the move. By night, they find whatever shelter they can.

"All humanitarian partners in North Kivu are fully deploying their resources but the capacity is not sufficient at the moment to cover all the needs identified. That's why we called for more funding in order to be able to complete the actual response and sustain it as long as the crisis lasts," said Yvon Edoumou, spokesman for the UN Office for the Cooperation of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Goma.

According to OCHA, just 35 percent of a US$718 million appeal for humanitarian assistance to DRC has been met.

Defections from the national army (FARDC) in mid-April left security vacuums across the region that were filled by militia groups. The situation further deteriorated when FARDC redeployed troops in the region to help quell the rebellion. Fighting in the North Kivu town of Masisi, the stronghold of indicted war criminal Gen Bosco Ntaganda and the now militarily defunct rebel-group CNDP, displaced a major wave of people in mid-April. [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95465/DRC-North-Kivu-in-turmoil-again ]

A second wave took place in May, when fighting spread to Rutshuru District where M23 rebels [ http://www.irinnews.org/printreport.aspx?reportid=95715 ] have established their base; local militia are also accused of killing scores of Kinyarwanda-speaking (the official language of Rwanda) civilians [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95626/DRC-Scores-killed-as-Mai-Mai-target-Kinyarwanda-speakers ] in the region, and there have been retaliatory attacks by the pro-Hutu militia group, Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

Insecurity in North Kivu has taken the number of internally displaced to 218,000 over the past two months, according to humanitarian agencies. [ http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Weekly%208%20June%202012.pdf ]

Access difficult

Alleviating suffering among the most vulnerable members of society is the prime concern for NGOs. "But for that we need to be able to access them. While most of the areas of displacement are reachable, some still remain difficult to access due to insecurity and bad roads," said OCHA's Edoumou."We need to ensure that the displaced are in safety and that assistance can be delivered without putting their lives at risk or the lives of aid workers."

The needs of IDPs and the challenges facing humanitarians in responding to them are exacerbated by the unpredictable and widespread nature of the insecurity.

"In Rutshuru, people have not moved very far from their places of origin where fighting is ongoing and this places them in greater vulnerability if the military front moves closer. In Walikale, some IDPs are located in remote areas, some of them only reachable by air, the road infrastructure being so bad. In Masisi Territory, the Mweso area is partially under armed groups' control and due to insecurity it's difficult to deliver aid without having it looted afterwards," Edoumou added.

The UN special envoy on sexual violence in conflict, Margot Wallström, has based her concerns for the current deteriorating situation on a similar state of affairs in 2010, when at least 387 women, men and children were the targets of sexual violence [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/90853/GENDER-Sexual-violence-used-to-break-the-will-of-civilians ] by the same rebels in the same area. "The situation is again causing immense suffering for civilians who are experiencing displacement, human rights violations, and loss of property," she said in a statement [ http://www.unmultimedia.org/radio/english/2012/05/risk-of-sexual-violence-repeating-in-eastern-congo ].

Elderly neglected?

The aged represent a particularly vulnerable and often neglected demographic; on the frontline between government forces and M23 rebels south of Bunagana, an elderly couple who do not know their age live with the daily exchange of heavy gunfire above their heads. They say they have not seen anyone apart from the elderly bed-bound woman they are caring for since fighting began and people fled two weeks ago.

"ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] recognizes the unaccompanied under-fives, but there is no category for old people," said Gaetan Duhamel, director of HelpAge International in DRC. "WHO [UN World Health Organization] doesn't carry medicines for older people in an emergency situation."

According to a 2012 HelpAge study, less than 1 percent [ http://www.helpage.org/newsroom/latest-news/less-than-1-of-humanitarian-financing-targets-older-people-and-people-with-disabilities ] of humanitarian aid targets older people and those with disabilities. "[Older people] are the last category in an emergency and a neglected area of intervention," Duhamel added.

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, is currently helping around 90,000 IDPs living in 31 camps (under joint UNHCR and government management) in North Kivu. For those living in spontaneous settlements, a committee called the Rapid Response to Movement of Population led by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), has been put in place to help them.

"We're facing difficulties as it's quite impossible sometimes to have access to the people in the war zone. We need a humanitarian corridor to assist and protect people," said Simplice Kpandji, spokesman for UNHCR in Goma. jh/kr/cb[END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95726

DRC: Understanding armed group M23

JOHANNESBURG, 22 June 2012 (IRIN) - To the layman the emergence of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) armed group M23 might be seen as of little significance - just another band of gunmen controlling a few square kilometres of turf in a country the size of western Europe.

"This [M23] is a new configuration and a serious development. More than 200,000 people have been displaced since April [because of M23]," Rupert Colville, a Geneva-based spokesperson for the UN High Commission for Human Rights, told IRIN.

In late March 2012 Gen Bosco Ntaganda, a senior officer in the DRC national army (FARDC), led a mutiny of 300-600 soldiers following discontent over unpaid wages and poor living conditions.

Ntaganda (known locally as the "terminator") was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2006 for war crimes. On 3 May 2012 Col Sultani Makenga began an apparently separate revolt. Both men were formerly part of Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), a former DRC militia backed by neighbouring Rwanda, before it was integrated into the FARDC as part of the 23 March 2009 peace agreement.

Makenga has reportedly denied that the two revolts were coordinated or connected. However, analysts suggest the mutinies may have been sparked by indications that DRC President Joseph Kabila was about to honour his obligations to the ICC and arrest Ntaganda. The UN Security Council has condemned the mutinies.

Colville said M23, which takes its name from the date of the 2009 peace agreement, has a senior command with "substantial allegations" of atrocities against it. He said that was why UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay took "the unusual step of naming names. She is flagging the dangers of M23."

"Notorious killers"

In a UN radio podcast entitled UN human rights chief fears more rapes, killings in Congo by M23, [ http://www.unmultimedia.org/radio/english/2012/06/un-human-rights-chief-fears-more-rapes-killings-in-congo-by-m23/ ] Colville said M23 "is really a reassembling - at least at the leadership level - of very well-known human rights abusers in the Congo over the past decade. quite a collection of notorious killers."

The track record of M23 commanders included the use of child soldiers (recently 20 child soldiers had been rescued by FARDC troops from M23 senior commander Col Innocent Zimurinda's unit), and Colville feared the worst human rights abuses by M23 were just "around the corner".

A January 2012 report by the UN Secretary-General on the UN Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) said: "The majority of acts of sexual violence in eastern DRC are committed by armed groups, notably FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda - established by perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide], as well as by elements integrated into FARDC, including from CNDP and other former Congolese armed groups."

Thierry Vircoulon, International Crisis Group project director for Central Africa, told IRIN: "Everyone is worried about M23 because of its leaders and their involvement in killings in the past - and that there is no access to these areas [controlled by M23] at the moment."

Among those named by Pillay are: Makenga, a former CNDP commander and linked to the 2008 Kiwandja massacre of 67 civilians; Col Baudouin Ngaruye, believed to be involved in the 2009 Shalio massacre of 139 civilians while a (FARDC) commander and previously of the CNDP; Col Innocent Zimurinda - alleged to have "command responsibility for the Kiwandja and Shalio massacres"; and Col Innocent Kaina alleged to have been involved in a string of human rights abuses in Ituri and Orientale provinces in 2004 when a member - along with Ntaganda - of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo's Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC) / Forces Patriotique pour la Libération du Congo (FPLC).

Lubanga was the first person convicted of a war crime by the ICC for "conscripting and enlisting" child soldiers.

The 23 March 2009 peace accord ushered in a few years of relative stability for North and South Kivu provinces and saw thousands of CNDP combatants integrated into the FARDC. Most of M23's commanders were members of CNDP, which was sponsored by neighbouring Rwanda to fight a proxy war in the DRC against the FDLR.

However, Nkunda refused to allow his soldiers to participate in MONUC's (predecessor of MONUSCO) Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration programme and as a compromise permitted the integration of his troops into the FARDC, with the proviso that there would be no retraining or relocation outside the Kivu provinces. Nkunda is now in Rwanda.

Parallel chain of command

An analyst who declined to be named said the integration of the CNDP militia into FARDC resulted in a parallel chain of command and their demand to remain in the Kivu provinces can be seen as fulfilling their perceived role as "protectors of the Banyamulenge" - Rwandan Tutsi migrants who arrived in the DRC around the 1880s and are recognized as Congolese citizens.

"What happened with the CNDP's integration in 2009 is the way to read the crisis now," Vircoulon said. "The [CNDP] military hierarchy was never broken down - and we're going back to the situation of a few years ago and the story is repeating itself."

The M23 pedigree of CNDP has seen Human Rights Watch claim in a 4 June 2012 report entitled Rwanda Should Stop Aiding War Crimes Suspect, [ http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/06/03/dr-congo-rwanda-should-stop-aiding-war-crimes-suspect-0 ] that the new armed group is cut from the same cloth as the CNDP and that Rwanda was actively assisting M23 as it did CNDP. This has been consistently denied by the Rwandan government of President Paul Kagame.
A report by the UN Group of Experts for the DRC is scheduled for imminent release, although a section dealing with allegations of Rwandan involvement with M23 is likely to be delayed after a veto by a Security Council member on its publication.

Failed security sector reform

A 2012 report compiled by a host of international and Congolese NGOs entitled Taking a Stand on Security Sector Reform, [ http://easterncongo.s3.amazonaws.com/79/02/5/114/DRC_SSR-Report_20123.pdfA ] sees eastern DRC's cycles of violence as a consequence of "a lack of political will" by the DRC government for security sector reform (SSR) and "poor coordination" of SSR by the country's international partners.

The report said that between 2006 and 2010 official DRC development aid for conflict, peace and security was US$530 million, or about 6 percent of total aid, excluding debt relief. "Spending directly on security system management and reform is even lower - $84.79 million over the same period, just over 1 percent."

The DRC grapples with a host of armed groups - from Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army and community self-defence militias known as Mai-Mai to the Allied Democratic Forces led by Ugandan Muslim rebel leader Jamil Mukulu - and some analysts have referred to FARDC "as another armed group" owing to their ill-discipline and documented human rights abuses.

A 2011 report by the Group for Research and Information on Peace and Security (GRIP) entitled Small Arms in Eastern Congo, A Survey on the Perception of Insecurity [ http://www.grip.org/en/siteweb/dev.asp?N=simple&O=843 ] found FARDC was the second greatest threat to insecurity, after armed groups.

The report by local and international NGOs (Taking a Stand on SSR) said the "dominant" view that effective SSR was too dangerous to contemplate had to be weighed up against maintaining the status quo, and that "the most significant risk of renewed conflict comes from within the Congolese security services itself, particularly the FARDC."

"SSR would no doubt bring short-term pain, but the long-term risk of inaction is far greater. The human, political and financial cost of the DRC again collapsing back into war is difficult to fathom," the report said.
go/cb [END] This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95715


DRC: Scores killed as Mai-Mai target Kinyarwanda speakers

KATOYI, 12 June 2012 (IRIN) - More than 100 people have been killed and thousands displaced in ethnically motivated massacres in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since mid-May, according to government officials.

Bigembe Turikonkinko, the sector chief of Katoyi in North Kivu's Masisi territory, has recorded the details of 120 people, primarily women and children, who were killed in 12 village massacres carried out between 17 and 22 May in Katoyi and its environs.

The police commissioner in Katoyi, Capt Lofimbo Raheli, says the attacks were carried out by a coalition of two Mai-Mai groups: the Raia Mutomboki, until this year only operational in South Kivu, and the Mai-Mai Kifuafua. According to Raheli, this Mai-Mai alliance is believed to be operating as a collective of smaller groups targeting speakers of Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda.

Mai-Mai Kifuafua was founded by ethnic Tembos in the early 1990s to fight Rwandan pro-Hutu militia group Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and claims to have supported the Congolese army, FARDC, in operations against FDLR for years. Raia Mutomboki, meaning "angry citizens", was loosely formed in South Kivu less than five years ago but revived and took up arms against the FDLR in 2011 when government forces left empty positions in Shabunda, South Kivu.

Fighting between the Raia Mutomboki and FDLR ensued, with at least 50 reported killed, according to DRC analyst and blogger Jason Stearns. The attacks spread northwest and, in alliance with Mai-Mai Kifuafua, Raia Mutomboki moved into Masisi and Walikale - also in North Kivu Province - where they carried out the first reported attacks in May this year. Since then some 1,500 families have fled to Katoyi, according to village officials, where their newly constructed bamboo huts dot the steep green hillsides.

Brutal attacks

Experts are concerned that these latest attacks suggest the Raia Mutomboki has moved from targeting the families of FDLR fighters to directing attacks against any Rwandaphone communities in eastern DRC.

Patrick Borama, 26, describes without emotion the attacks that killed his mother, pregnant sister and two nephews, along with 20 other fellow residents in Marembo village on 14 and 15 May. "Before the attacks we heard rumours of the Raia Mutomboki. On the [first] day of the attack, we saw it was people speaking Swahili wearing clothes made from raffia, nearly naked," he said.

Borama could not say how many men there were, but other witnesses report groups of 10-40. Borama said they attacked with machetes, spears and axes, as well as some Kalashnikovs; he said they shouted out their intention to kill anyone who speaks Kinyarwanda.

The attackers killed Borama's mother by stabbing her in the chest; they killed his sister with a bullet in the back of her neck as she fled, and his nephews with machetes, their intestines left spilling out. He spent a week hiding in the forest, only returning when the sound of gunshots stopped; he buried 10 corpses, already rotting, including those of his mother, sister and nephews.

Army overstretched

"The situation is the worst it's been for several years. Progress made is being lost as previously stable areas are becoming increasingly insecure," said Samuel Dixon, policy adviser for the NGO Oxfam.

FARDC has maintained a fragile stability in the region since 2009, but in April, a string of defections led by indicted war-criminal Gen Bosco Ntaganda, left power vacuums that have been filled by militia. The army is now overstretched in dealing with these new threats as well as the mutiny playing out close to the Ugandan border.

Thousands of Congolese refugees have been streaming across the border to Rwanda and Uganda [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95581/DRC-IDPs-weigh-options-as-fighting-rages-in-North-Kivu ] as a result of fighting between FARDC and mutineers.

Overlooking the village of Remeka in Masisi, FARDC has deployed a battalion in response to pleas from locals to secure their safety. The thousands of displaced persons in Remeka, many living with host-families, fled retaliatory attacks by the FDLR that security experts say left hundreds dead. MONUSCO has deployed a platoon of 36 Uruguayan peacekeepers at a temporary base on a hilltop overlooking Katoyi, from where they carry out daily patrols.

On the afternoon of 2 June, police commissioner Raheli arrived at the peacekeeper's base with news of another massacre. He said Raia Mutomboki had attacked at the village of Kahunda - a few kilometres from Katoyi - at 1pm that afternoon. The next day, sector chief Turikonkinko confirmed that Raia Mutomboki were now closer to the village than ever before. "Our security has been breached," he said. According to Raheli, nine people were left dead in Kahunda.

Turikonkinko says he has received a communiqué from Raia Mutomboki that details their intention to kill all remaining Kinyarwanda speakers in the area.

On the morning of 3 June, many of the temporary bamboo houses inhabited by displaced people stood empty. Camp officials said it was because people had heard of the 2 June attacks and fled once more, fearing the Raia Mutomboki would move on Katoyi; by 4 June those who fled had returned, but the atmosphere remains tense.

Need for lasting solutions

MONUSCO has operational procedures in place should the village of Katoyi come under attack. Four heavy machine guns will take hilltop positions surrounding the wire-fenced base; the troops will be outside, with civilians held in the enclosed area little bigger than a football pitch.

Bernard Harerimana, director of the primary school in Katoyi, seems weary of the 120 displaced persons living in his school but is nonetheless concerned for their welfare; he says he fears the roofs leak at night, leaving many shivering cold and wet. Harerimana says they began arriving in mid-May. By day, they vacate the classrooms, but by night he allows them to sleep under blackboards and among the desks. His pupils have nowhere to sit, he says, as the displaced are using the benches for firewood, and the school is becoming unclean with human waste.

Oxfam's Dixon says the Congolese government and UN do have plans to stabilize eastern Congo, but that the current wave of insecurity shows they are not working; he called for a serious political commitment to a long-term solution involving local, regional and international actors, and including real progress on army reform.

"Without a lasting solution to eastern Congo's problems, crises such as this will continue to plague DRC and ordinary people will continue to face the everyday risk of violence such as massacre, rape, extortion, forced labour and looting. It is unacceptable that violence in Congo goes unstopped and under-reported. While world leaders rightly condemn Syrian massacres, the human tragedies happening in Congo are hidden at best, ignored at worst," he said. jh/kr/cb[END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95626


More funding key as UN agency assists civilians fleeing violence in DR Congo

8 June 2012 – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today stressed the need for sufficient resources as it strives to meet the needs of a growing number of people displaced by violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

With the conflict escalating in the past few weeks, WFP has been providing lifesaving assistance to Congolese who were forced to leave everything behind,” said WFP’s Regional Director for East and Central Africa, Stanlake Samkange.

But continued violence will lead to more people requiring help and it will be critical to ensure that WFP has sufficient resources to address the needs of the newly displaced,” he added.

Overall, WFP is currently providing assistance to a total of 532,000 Congolese refugees and IDPs in Africa’s Great Lakes region. Its operations in DRC, Uganda and Rwanda currently have a combined funding shortfall of some $46 million over the next six months.

This week alone, the agency provided monthly food rations to close to 20,000 newly displaced people and host families in Beni in the province of North Kivu, amid concerns about the effect of violence on civilians in the country’s eastern region.

Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes, many seeking refuge near the city of Goma or elsewhere in eastern DRC, WFP stated in a news release. Thousands more have made the trek across the Rwandan and Ugandan borders in search of security.

In North and South Kivu provinces, WFP is providing emergency food assistance to more than 244,000 displaced people. It plans to provide food to 4,000 new internally displaced persons in Rutshuru, North Kivu, in the coming days and carry out an assessment of the needs of some 80,000 people who have arrived in the same area. Another 8,000 people are scheduled to receive food assistance in Minova, South Kivu, next week.

In Uganda, more than 21,000 Congolese who have crossed the border since the beginning of the year have received assistance at the Nyakabande reception centre in Kisoro and elsewhere in the country.

Meanwhile, close to 11,000 people have crossed the border into Rwanda since April, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The refugees are temporarily housed at the Nkamira transit centre, where they receive food from WFP. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42180&Cr=Democratic&Cr1=Congo



DRC cholera outbreak worsens

KINSHASA, 8 June (IRIN) - A growing cholera outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has claimed nearly 400 lives and affected more than 19,100 people since January, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"The total number of cholera cases in 2012 is around 90 percent of cases reported last year. Since January 2011, 983 people have died from the outbreak affecting eight of 11 provinces of the country," Yvon Edoumou, OCHA spokesman, told a news conference.

Since the outbreak started, more than 40,795 cases have been reported. Edoumou said the growing epidemic had put a strain on ongoing humanitarian interventions funded mainly by a US$9.1 million grant by the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, which provides rapid response grants for humanitarian emergencies.

Experts have blamed the continued spread [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95384/DRC-Poor-sanitation-systems-hinder-fight-against-cholera ] of cholera in the DRC on poor hygiene, lack of awareness about transmission mechanisms, limited access to protected and monitored water sources and a general lack of sanitation infrastructure. sw/kr/cb [ENDS]
This report on line: http://www.IRINnews.org/report.aspx?ReportID=95604


DRC: IDPs weigh options as fighting rages in North Kivu

GOMA, 4 June 2012 (IRIN) - Since fighting began in April between government soldiers and a large group of defectors from the regular army, North Kivu province in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has become a spaghetti junction of human migration patterns; tens of thousands of people have been displaced.

The movement of people might appear haphazard to the outside observer. Some walk east, others west.

For some, it is their third time to be displaced by conflict and many report negative experiences in camps. "You wait a whole day for one bowl of porridge, and there is violence," said Jeremiah*, who is currently sheltering in a remote hospital on a hill in Rutshuru District which overlooks an anti-aircraft gun position. International NGOs have no presence here now - only the local Red Cross, which supports the hospital.

Jeremiah's nine-year-old daughter was apprehended and raped while she and her grandmother were fleeing their village. He says the news killed him and that he is tired of war. But he says he will not cross the Ugandan border (less than 20km away) even if it does guarantee his family's safety. "They make you go very far from your home", he said.

Maria Domitilla Nyabayazana* is the only resident in Kabanda, a village now on the front line in the conflict on the edge of Virunga National Park. Suffering from a leg injury, Maria was abandoned when other residents fled two weeks ago. "I have heard bombs since this morning - everybody has left," she said. Maria still carries out her daily chores, and eats the vegetables and fruits growing by her house.

"Close to 100,000 people have been uprooted from their homes by the recent wave of violence in. North Kivu, prompting renewed calls for better measures to protect civilians and more aid for distressed families," said a 31 May press release from the UN humanitarian coordinator in the DRC.

"Since the beginning of April, thousands of families in North Kivu have had to flee for their lives, in the wake of violence borne out of desertions from the national army as well as ongoing military operations to bring under control illegal armed groups. It is estimated that some 74,000 people are now displaced in the Masisi, Lubero and Rutshuru territories, and several thousand more have found refuge in and around the provincial capital Goma," it added.

The army defectors or "mutineers"[ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95465/DRC-North-Kivu-in-turmoil-again ] had previously been integrated into the army as part of peace efforts.

On 4 June, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Rwanda   [http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/06/03/dr-congo-rwanda-should-stop-aiding-war-crimes-suspect-0  ] of supporting the mutinous troops, who are led by Gen Bosco Ntaganda, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

HRW said Rwandan military officials had allowed Ntaganda to enter Rwanda and supplied him with new recruits, weapons, and ammunition. Rwanda has denied any involvement in the mutiny.

As villages become front lines, the most determined close their doors and hope for the best. "Yesterday, we listened to the armoury of the government," said August Basiha, 20, outside his home in Rangira, as UN surveillance helicopters circled overhead.

 "This village was never taken in the past. We are staying", he said, shortly after a convoy of trucks carrying special forces from Kinshasa and heavy artillery had passed.

Uganda the best option?

For others, however, Uganda is the best option: There is a relatively good road to the border, and trading opportunities in the busy border town. But some Congolese refugees say Uganda's immigration officials are refusing them entry on the basis that "night commuting" is not allowed.

On one night in May, 7,000 people collected at the Bunagana border crossing, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). In response, Ugandan officials encouraged people to register. Those who did were transported to the increasingly over-stretched Nyakabande transit centre, 20km from the border and yet further from their crops and livestock.

At the border itself, UNHCR does not provide any assistance, nor register people, said Simplice Kpandji, a UNHCR public information officer in Goma: "The refugees are registered in the transit centre and assistance is also given to them there. For security reasons, we encourage them to move to the transit centre."

In Bunagana, a Congolese town straddling the Ugandan border, the school is a temporary camp for many hundred internally displaced persons (IDPs). Jean-Claude* has a stall selling potatoes and miniature tubes of toothpaste. He says residents feel safe, and there are buildings for shelter and water. "But no one has any money and we're not getting any food - there is only so long that I can stay here," he said.

Patchy aid delivery

A rapid response, led by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), is allowing aid workers to intervene and distribute essentials, but the government has made it clear that it does not want new official camps, and attempts by some NGOs to feed these people have been frustrated by bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, the government's food distribution efforts appear to be ineffective. One international aid worker said the DRC minister of humanitarian affairs arrived in Rutshuru town (28km from Bunagana) and left a pile of food, but did not stop to ensure it went to those in need. The source, who asked not to be identified, said that even policemen took a share of the rations.

"We are facing difficulties as it's quite impossible sometimes to have access to the people in the war zone. We need a humanitarian corridor to assist and protect people", said Kpandji. UN agencies and international NGOs have been forced to pull staff out of a number of locations in the last two months.

*names have been changed at interviewees' request jh/cb [END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95581




DRC: "Banana Aids" threatens social fabric on Idjwi island

IDJWI  , 21 May 2012 (IRIN) - More than half of mountainous South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is infected by banana xanthomonas wilt (BXW), often referred to by farmers as "Banana AIDS". The incurable disease is wiping out bananas and plantains grown at high altitudes and spreads easily. IRIN looked at the disease and how people are being affected on the island of Idjwi (population 230,000) in Lake Kivu.

"Malnutrition is increasing: in the last half of 2011, the Idjwi Centre for Rural Promotion (CPR) recorded 48 new cases of malnourished children in the north of the island against 21 in the first half the same year," said Euphraim Kivayaga, the director of CPR, a local development organization which has been active on the island for over 20 years.

The socio-economic consequences of the epidemic are strongly felt as the inhabitants live almost exclusively from farming, and population pressure is a growing source of poverty.

"It's all of social life which deconstructs: we are seeing an increase in theft and conflict in communities, and instances of mob justice are increasing and are particularly violent. Illiteracy and migration away from rural areas is growing... People are helpless. In addition, false rumours are circulating and we need to combat them," said Kivayaga.

Banana plantations play a central role in local communities in eastern DRC. Besides being a staple food, bananas are used for their juice and to make beer - the juice may be given to children as a substitute for milk, while beer is a drink that plays a crucial social role, especially at weddings.

Julie Van Damme, a researcher at the Earth and Life Institute of the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL), also emphasizes "the economic role of bananas which serve as farmers' `bank accounts' for unexpected or major expenses (such as payment of school fees) and their role in agriculture: bananas aid soil fertility and help prevent soil erosion."

A regional epidemic

BXW began in Ethiopia on Ensete crops (related to bananas), where it had a relatively minor effect. It was during its spread to Uganda that farmers realized the epidemic nature of the bacterium. Present in North Kivu since 2001, the bacterium has spread to both Kivus today. In 2011, it was reported in five provinces of nearby Burundi [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/92553 ]

Banana plantations occupy 30 percent of the cultivated area in South Kivu and generate nearly 60 percent of household income. Four territories of South Kivu Province saw their banana production decline 20-100 percent, resulting in some places in a loss of 35 tons per hectare per year, a US$1,600 per hectare per year loss for the farmer.

The rapid spread of BXW has devastating consequences for all farmers. The symptoms of BXW are dry banana leaves, early ripening of bananas, a yellowish fluid in the trunk of banana trees, and a hardening and darkening of bananas making them inedible. "Even the animals are refusing this food," said one farmer in Idjwi North.

Disease control measures

Although "there is no magic bullet solution, it is possible to control the spread of disease by strict but practicable techniques," said Grant Bulangashane, an assistant at the Catholic University of Bukavu and a PhD student at UCL.

"Farmers must get used to disinfecting their tools - by using a chemical disinfectant or exposing them to fire - as they move from an infected plant to a healthy plant. Farmers must also, using a stick, remove the male bud of the diseased plant, which attracts insects and becomes, due to foraging animals, a vector of disease. They must also cut the plant and bury or dispose of waste bananas and ensure that animals do not spread the disease as they move from infected plants to healthy plants."

To combat this latest threat, some farmers have had the idea of placing hot ashes on infected banana plants, to prevent contact.

Educate and legislate

In Uganda, the government has set up a Task Force to develop a plan to fight the disease. W.K. Tushemereirwe, in a collective work edited by an international network promoting bananas and plantains, believed "Uganda was losing $360 million each year because of the disease." The plan has had an impact and DRC is seeking to follow suit, despite the lack of resources, and red tape.

Currently a provincial order is under review at the office of governor of South Kivu and is about to be signed. "To stop the spread, everyone should apply the same rules. If your neighbour does not respect them, your work is useless," said an angry farmer who lost a significant portion of his crop. Indeed, political action is important to ensure that healthy seeds and agricultural equipment are controlled and distributed to enforce basic practices.

Awareness is a key step. CPR is using its meagre resources to broadcast about the disease on its community radio station. After awareness-raising and "the phase without bananas" which should last 6-8 months - extremely difficult for a farmer who has a substantial portion of his crop infected - we must consider planting afresh.

Looking ahead

The Consortium for Improving Agriculture-Based Livelihoods in Central Africa   [ www.cialca.org  ]  , in partnership with the provincial inspectors and Louvain Development, has set up a system of "macro-propagation" of healthy plants. It should strive to produce a variety bananas appreciated by the people and supplied by a source that has not been in contact with the disease.

"Some universities, including the UCL, hold the complete collection of varieties of bananas," said Julie Van Damme. "The Phytolab in Burundi can also provide `healthy vitroplants'. But all this has a cost."

Faced with this alarming situation, extensive action is vital: In Idjwi the population is desperate and the humanitarian challenge daunting. cm/cb [END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95494


DRC: North Kivu in turmoil again

GISENYI (WESTERN RWANDA), 16 May 2012 (IRIN) - In the last few weeks fighting between government troops and "mutineers" has ended three years of relative peace in North Kivu Province, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and thousands of refugees have been streaming across the border to Rwanda.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the clashes have displaced 40,600 people since April. For many of them this is the third time they have been forced to flee their homes since the mid-1990s.

"It [war] is something they have seen and that they know," Richard Ndaula, the UNHCR team leader at western Rwanda's Nkamira transit camp, told IRIN. The camp has received at least 8,000 refugees since 27 April. [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95413/DRC-Congolese-refugees-flee-fighting-into-Rwanda ]

Who are the "mutineers"?

Bosco Ntaganda was second in charge of the Tutsi rebel group Congrès national pour la défense du people (CNDP) until 2009, when he brokered a deal to integrate its troops into the national army and take over the North Kivu command. After integration, CNDP soldiers operated a parallel leadership structure, taking orders only from Ntaganda.

However, in early April, the former CNDP soldiers began to defect, citing unpaid salaries and poor living conditions, and said the government had failed to uphold the terms of the 2009 peace accord. Commentators said the "mutineers" were protecting Ntaganda from arrest, but they denied this, calling themselves M23 in reference to the 23 March 2009 accord.

Ntaganda, already indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), stands accused in the past week of continuing to recruit children as young as 12 into the ranks of his armed group.

On 15 May ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he wanted to add charges of murder, ethnic persecution, rape and sexual slavery to the 2006 charge against Ntaganda of recruiting children.

Ntaganda was Thomas Lubanga's successor in another militia, the Union des patriotes congolais. The ICC on 14 March found Lubanga guilty [http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95073/DRC-Lubanga-verdict-a-first-step] of conscripting child soldiers in the northeastern DRC region of Ituri.

Anneke Van Woudenberg, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Goma (eastern DRC), said: "There is evidence to suggest extensive recruitment of children and young men by the mutineers. Bosco Ntaganda is once again committing the very crimes against children for which the International Criminal Court has been demanding his arrest."

Allegations of mistreatment

It took Jean-Pierre Iransi, a 20-year-old student from Burungu in Masisi, North Kivu, five days to reach Rwanda, a journey which normally takes one day. Iransi said he was detained 12 times by both government soldiers and rebels. At one point rebels forced him to carry equipment; when he refused, he said they threatened to kill him. "Many civilians were taken to become soldiers. Up to this moment we don't know where they are," he said.

HRW in a 16 May statement [http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/05/15/dr-congo-bosco-ntaganda-recruits-children-force
] based on interviews with witnesses and victims, said: "Ntaganda's troops - an estimated 300-600 soldiers who followed him in his mutiny - forcibly recruited at least 149 boys and young men around Kilolirwe, Kingi, Kabati, and other locations on the road to Kitchanga, in Masisi, North Kivu Province, between 19 April and 4 May. Those forcibly recruited were between 12 and 20 years old and were largely from the Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups." It said the actual level of recruitment during this period may have been significantly higher.

In an excerpt from the HRW statement, a woman said that in mid-April Ntaganda had personally come to her village and said: "Since you [villagers] have been with the government, you've got nothing. Why not join me?" The woman said: "[Ntaganda] asked us to give our children, our students, to him to fight. He came to our village himself, like [detained rebel leader Laurent] Nkunda used to do. But we refused and said our children should go to school."

Later, Ntaganda's fighters took children by force from schools, their homes and farms, or from the roadside as they tried to flee on foot or on motorbike taxis, said HRW. "A number of those forcibly recruited were given quick military training, but the majority were immediately forced to porter weapons and ammunition to frontline positions. Many were put in military uniforms or partial uniforms."

According to Omar Katova, a spokesperson for a number of North Kivu civil society groups, the Congolese government should end the "new war" in North Kivu by disbanding armed groups and arresting "mutineer" defectors, amid increasing concern that other rebel groups, including the pro-Hutu Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), could take advantage of a security vacuum.

On 7 May FDLR attacked some government positions and abducted five women in neighbouring South Kivu Province.

At present, Ntaganda's location remains unknown, although according to the HRW statement, he could be in the Virunga National Park with a small group of fighters. His M23 "mutineers", reportedly numbering 500-800 [ http://congosiasa.blogspot.com/2012/05/weekend-of-talking-and-heavy-fighting.html ], have in large part left Masisi. After gathering at the border junction between the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda, they attempted a takeover of Bunagana town, along the DRC-Uganda border in early May.

The absence of Ntaganda's CNDP troops in their Masisi stronghold, which is currently under the control of the Congolese army, is emerging as a threat to the remaining Tutsi population, with many of those who have fled to Rwanda speaking of ethnic intolerance.

"They [Congolese soldiers] beat us when they find us. They tell me I'm Rwandan. Every time, they say this is not your country. But I was born in Congo, I grew up in Congo," said a refugee.

Meanwhile, Congolese refugees arriving in Rwanda from their homes in Masisi, say they saw friends and family beaten and arrested on the way. Arsene Harnyurwa made it to Rwanda from Rubai but said soldiers took everything he had, down to his baby's milk. "The rebels and the government are the same. The people who made it here are the lucky ones," he said.

Voting with their feet

On 7 May Liz Ahua, deputy director of UNHCR's Africa Bureau, warned [ http://www.unhcr.org/4fa7e3126.html ] that "a new site will have to be found if more refugees continue to arrive on a daily basis."

Rwanda is already hosting some 55,000 Congolese refugees in three crowded camps.

In neighboring Uganda, the challenge is different with an estimated 30,000-40,000 so-called Congolese "night commuters" at the Bunagana border point. They are refusing to seek asylum in Uganda, waiting for the situation back home to stabilize. The Ugandan government is encouraging them to seek refuge and get UNHCR assistance.

As to when they will return home, HRW's Van Woudenberg said: "People will decide with their feet."
jh/aw/am/cb [END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95465


DRC: Congolese refugees flee fighting into Rwanda

KIGALI, 4 May 2012 (IRIN) - Renewed heavy fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) North Kivu Province has pushed some 3,000 Congolese refugees into northern Rwanda where they are in need of humanitarian assistance, says a senior UN official.

"The situation is worsening since humanitarian volunteers are now overwhelmed by the influx of Congolese refugees who are arriving in Rwanda," Neimah Warsame, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) representative in Rwanda, told reporters on 3 May.

According to Warsame, the refugee influx into the Nkamira transit camp, in the  northwest, has prompted a multi-agency relief effort.

In a press release,  the Rwandan Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs said that local administrative leaders, in collaboration with humanitarian volunteers, are screening the refugees arriving at Nkamira.

The refugees are fleeing fighting between the DRC army and troops loyal to the former Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP) militia leader Gen. Bosco Ntaganda.

 In a  3 May statement,  the UN Security Council [http://reliefweb.int/node/494261] expressed serious concern over the recent attacks by armed groups in eastern DRC -  in particular former elements of the CNDP under the leadership of  Ntaganda - against the Congolese armed forces, and called for an immediate end to the rebellion.

The Council also expressed concern over the worsening security and humanitarian situation in the area, especially the  increasing number of displaced persons and the outflow of refugees into neighbouring countries. It called "for all crimes, including crimes against women and children, to be expeditiously investigated and the need for all perpetrators of those crimes, in particular Ntaganda, to be brought to justice."

Ntaganda has been indicted by the UN International Criminal Court for war crimes in the northeastern Ituri region by the Union des patriotes congolais (UPC) militia whose former leader, Thomas Lubanga, was on 14 March found guilty [http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95073/DRC-Lubanga-verdict-a-first-step] of conscripting child soldiers by the Court. Ntaganda was Lubanga's successor at the UPC.

At present, Rwanda is hosting some 53, 000 Congolese refugees and asylum seekers in camps in the Gihembe, Kiziba and Nyabiheke areas in the north and western regions.

"Most of those Congolese refugees have fled previous fighting in their country since 1996," said Warsame.
 at/aw/oa
[END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95413

DRC: Poor sanitation systems hinder fight against cholera

KINSHASA, 30 April 2012 (IRIN) - More than 7,500 cholera cases have been identified in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since the beginning of the year as an epidemic that began in June 2011 continues to affect parts if the capital, Kinshasa, as well as four other provinces.

In total, more than 30,000 cholera cases have been identified around the country since the epidemic started, while 230 people have succumbed to the disease since the beginning of the year, and more than 700 since June 2011. In addition to Kinshasa, the provinces of Orientale, North Kivu, Equateur and Bas Congo are currently experiencing outbreaks.

According to Nona Zicherman, chief of emergency operations in DRC for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the epidemic has continued largely because of "poor hygiene, lack of awareness of the population about transmission mechanisms, very limited access to protected and monitored water sources and lack of sanitation infrastructure."

Kinshasa is one of Africa's most over-crowded cities, with a population of about 10 million. Poor drainage means stagnant, polluted water floods the city's streets when it rains, while huge piles of rubbish line many of its streets.

According to the International Water Association [ http://www.iwawaterwiki.org/xwiki/bin/view/Articles/23)+KINSHASA+(Democratic+Republic+of+Congo,+DRC)+3?viewer=code ] - a network of 10,000 global water professionals - 38 percent of Kinshasa residents have no access to piped water. The city has no proper sewerage system and no major facilities for the treatment of waste water and sludge.

"When cholera finds a situation of high population, poor sanitation and hygiene, it stays," said Dr Benoit Kebela Ilunga, the Ministry of Health's head of disease control. "The water infrastructure we have has not been improved since colonial times, yet the population has increased significantly; the supply is insufficient for today."

According to Kebela, while cholera in Kinshasa is unlikely to last long if properly controlled, in the east it has become endemic over the past decade.

"Studies show that the water around the Great Lakes such as Albert, Kivu and Tanganykia, and in cities such as Kalemie, Goma, Bukavu, Uvira and Bunia has become an environment for the multiplication of cholera," he said. "Coverage of potable water in endemic areas is less than 15 percent in endemic areas, so people use the lakes for most of their water supply."

The Ministry of Health, UNICEF and the World Health Organization have constructed and equipped cholera treatment centres [CTCs] in the most affected health zones in Kinshasa.

Addressing the disease

"While treatment is available in these health zones, the challenge is that cholera continues to spread to some new health zones, and as new cases are notified a need for the establishment of new CTCs, including delivery of equipment and training of personnel, in these neighbouring health zones will be necessary," said UNICEF's Zicherman.

Crucially, Zicherman said, it would be necessary to address the causes of cholera in order to curb the epidemic and prevent its resurgence.

"All factors that contribute to the spread of the disease need to be addressed: access to clean water, sanitation facilities, hygiene awareness," she said.

"The activities that can help reduce the spread of the epidemic start with epidemiological investigation to identify the most common pathways of contamination of the environment and transmission between people: places, areas, habits, rituals, beliefs, etc..."

She noted that emergency and medium- and long-term interventions to limit the spread of cholera needed to be developed.

"Immediate response includes disinfection of contaminated environments [such as] households, vehicles, and boats that transported cholera cases; appropriate management and disposal of dead bodies; and increasing access to safe water through chlorination and monitoring of water sources, distribution of soap, clean water receptacles, and other important hygiene items," she said.

"For the longer-term impact, behavioural change activities - awareness campaigns, communication, hygiene promotion, education programs - [and] construction or rehabilitation of water supply and sanitation facilities."
kr/am[END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95384


DRC: Concern over welfare of IDPs in Katanga

KINSHASA, 24 April 2012 (IRIN) - Aid agencies are unable to access thousands of people displaced from the town of Mitwaba, in the southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) province of Katanga as a result of recent fighting between rebels and government forces.

"Since 11 April, thousands of people have been forced to move from Mitwaba to Kasungeshi 45km away because of an attack by Mayi Mayi rebels led by Gédéon Kyungu on the armed forces of the DRC," Medard Lobota, information officer for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the DRC, said at a recent press conference. 

"Distribution of food and other humanitarian assistance has been postponed as a result of insecurity in the area," he told IRIN.  Local sources told IRIN the latest attack is estimated to have displaced 18,000 people. However, the region has been volatile for several months.

According to OCHA, the Mayi-Mayi group attacked soldiers of the Congolese army (FARDC) in Katanga's Shamwana village on 29 February, displacing an estimated 26,000 people in the Manono, Mitwaba and Pweto territories.

In December 2011, more than 16,000 people were displaced in the Mitwaba, Pweto, Manono and Malemba Nkulu territories as a result of fighting between FARDC and the rebels. 

The UN World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) appealed for US$4 million on 27 March to respond to the humanitarian needs of those displaced by the violence in Katanga. 

"The priorities are food, non-food items and emergency shelter, the protection of civilians, protection of children against abuse, access to health services, water and sanitation, treatment of acute malnutrition in young children and the return of displaced children to school," said the appeal.

Aid agencies noted that women and children constituted 86 percent of the internally displaced persons (IDPs), with 25 percent of children under the age of five. Many IDPs were living with, and depending on, already impoverished families within host communities.

"A recent study by Médecins Sans Frontières demonstrates that this situation is gradually getting worse among the internally displaced in Mitwaba, mainly due to malnutrition, malaria and anaemia," the agencies noted, adding that no vaccinations had been performed in Mitwaba since December 2011 as a result of insecurity, while poor sanitation in the IDP sites was raising the risk of epidemics. 
sw/kr/cb[END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95350



DRC: Thorny issue of reparations for Lubanga's victims

LONDON, 10 April 2012 (IRIN) - Motorcycles, school fees, counselling, cash: Thomas Lubanga's `kadogo' (child soldiers) know what reparations they want from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Less clear is what a cash-strapped tribunal can offer damaged children taken from their families and forced to fight in a brutal ethnic conflict in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

"They expect something that will really help them to heal, to help them to recover from the loss of their childhood, their education," said Bukeni Waruzi, an expert on child soldiers and the programme manager for Africa and the Middle East at NGO Witness.

"When a child is recruited, the minute he gets in the camp, he is not the same as before. It doesn't take 10 years for a child to become a child soldier, it takes two days maximum, and the mind is changed. How do you repair that?"

Lubanga was convicted in March on three charges of recruiting and using child soldiers in the military wing of his Union of Congolese Patriots in 2002 and 2003. His ICC trial heard that children as young as nine served as fighters and bodyguards.

It was the ICC's first-ever verdict, and the court is now heading into unfamiliar legal territory as judges must now decide on reparations for Lubanga's victims.

No other international criminal tribunal has ever awarded reparations, but under ICC rules, those who have suffered injury or harm from a crime for which someone is convicted could receive restitution, compensation or rehabilitation.

"The [judges] will decide on Lubanga's sentence, this is first step," said Paolina Massidda, principal counsel of the ICC's Office of the Public Counsel for Victims, which provides support to victims including legal representation. Under the ICC's founding treaty, the Rome Statute, court-recognized victims are given lawyers and allowed to participate throughout a trial, including questioning witnesses.

"It is possible then for the court to start reparations proceedings, but there is no clear established procedure which is the reason why the judges are asking participants [in the case] to provide observations, among other things, on whether reparations should be awarded collectively or on an individual basis, to whom and how harm could be assessed."

Collective/symbolic reparations

Luc Walleyn, who along with a Congolese lawyer represents 19 victims, doubts collective reparations would work for his clients - ex-child soldiers and their families.

"Child soldiers are not a community," he said. "It is not like a village that has been victimized. They are very often in conflict with their own families. I cannot see my clients as a group. They are really individuals.

"If today you asked my clients how they wish to have reparations, the answers would be quite different from one to another. One will say I would like to start my studies again. Another would say I would like to have a motorcycle so I can...  run a taxi business. A lot of them say `give me money'."

But experts warn that cash payouts are unlikely, and many will get nothing unless they can prove to the court that they were harmed by Lubanga's crimes. Waruzi worries this will be disappointing to the former child soldiers who are largely uneducated and untrained. Many suffer from drug addiction or diseases including HIV. Others have been victims of sexual violence.

"The victims think that what they want will be provided," he said."A child thinks, 'I have been a victim. I shall get reparations because I won the case. Will they give me money? Will they give me a car? Will they buy me a house? How much will I receive?' I think that's what's in the mind of the child soldiers."

He wants reparations that match the scale and scope of the crimes.

"The ICC was initially thinking of symbolic reparations," Waruzi said. "They were saying something like building a statue in the village that will really honour the victims. But reparations cannot be symbolic, because the crimes were not symbolic. It is now for the ICC to take full responsibility, to actually manage the expectations."

On trial since January 2009 and in custody since 2005, Lubanga was declared indigent and given a legal aid lawyer. This will be reassessed by judges in the coming weeks. If he cannot pay for reparations himself, the court may turn to its Trust Fund for Victims [ http://www.trustfundforvictims.org ] which supports reparations from the voluntary contributions it receives from ICC members and others.

In 2011 the fund's total annual income was 3.2 million euros. It has ring-fenced 1.2 million euros for court-ordered reparations.

Tailored messages

Though his resources are "modest" and the number of ICC cases expanding fast, the executive director of the fund's secretariat prefers to talk about meeting rather than managing expectations. But Pieter de Baan admits the fund has been keeping a deliberately low profile on reparations until the judges decide how the process will work.

"Our plan is that once we have more information coming from the chambers on which direction they would like to go we will tailor the messages we will be sending out to communities," said de Baan.

"The current message is that the Trust Fund is not a fund for all victims of all crimes in all places but is very much limited by the legal framework of the Rome Statute. It also doesn't take away any of the responsibilities that the national government may have, to look after victimized communities. That will be part of the message as well."

Reparations are only one part of the Fund's work.

Operating under its General Assistance rather than Reparations mandate [ http://www.icckenya.org/2011/09/qa-with-the-executive-director-of-the-trust-fund-for-victims-pieter-w-i-de-baan/ ] it has been on the ground in eastern DRC and northern Uganda since 2008 offering vocational training, trauma counselling, reconciliation workshops and reconstructive surgery to over 80,000 victims. This close contact has convinced de Baan that the best reparations are those that help people to get on with their lives.

"They might like to have some sort of reparation that would acknowledge their victimhood and their dignity as human beings that allows them to rebuild their lives in a way that is meaningful and sustainable," he said.

Minefield?

Analysts agree, however, that reparations are a legal and social minefield. The potential problems - and solutions - are already filling pages of legal submissions to the judges.

In its filing to the court, the ICC's registry warns that because Lubanga recruited children from his own Hema community which was in conflict with the Lendu people "should reparations be awarded in the case, the majority of victims will be from one side of an ethnic conflict in which both sides suffered harm."

The registry also cautions against "ill advised reparation orders [which] may worsen the situation of former child soldiers by increasing the children's stigmatization within their own community." It also questions how eligible victims will be found as some have moved on from their villages.

Carla Ferstman, director of Redress, a human rights group working with war crimes victims, urges the judges to consider the many existing rulings on reparations . They come from truth commissions and regional courts, including the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

"It's not like the ICC will have to start from scratch," said Ferstman. "We hope that the court isn't going to try and reinvent the wheel but that it is going to look at all of these different kinds of processes. There is a lot of experience out there."

She says it is essential that the ICC gets this right. "Ensuring there is some manner of reparations is part of this vital rebalancing of the criminal justice process to involve victims not only as observers and witnesses - [something] that makes it clear that what happened to them matters. It is like a humanization of criminal justice."

But with so many potential pitfalls, there are fears that the reparations process could drag on as long as the trial. Walleyn says the former child soldiers he represents have become disillusioned after years of waiting.

"They have fewer expectations than six years ago," said Walleyn. "However, they are still hoping to see something, because that was what was promised by the system of the court."
lc/cb [END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95257


SECURITY: LRA nurtures the next generation of child soldiers

FARADJE, 26 March 2012 (IRIN) - The dilemma for Atati Faustin, 13, from Faradje in Haut-Uélé District, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is that although he misses his younger brother - abducted into the ranks of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) two years ago -  he is also afraid of being reunited with him.  

"I want my brother back," he told IRIN, "but if I see him I would run. I am scared of him. I feel like he has died."

Displaced with about 1,300 people from the nearby village of Kimbinzi in 2008 following repeated LRA attacks, and relocated to Ngubu, a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the outskirts of Faradje, he has not yet encountered him, but others in the community have - dishevelled, with dreadlocks, and carrying an AK47 assault rifle and a panga.

Kimbinzi is about 7km from the camp and occasionally some villagers return under a military escort provided by Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) to till the fields, as crops planted on land provided for them close to the River Dungu are routinely destroyed by hippos. Only young men return (during daylight hours) to Kimbinzi in a phenomenon described by relief workers as "pendulum movement" - women and children stay in the relative safety of Ngubu.

Joseph Kony's LRA is thought to have kidnapped more than 30,000 children from the Central African Republic, DRC, South Sudan and Uganda in a 25-year transnational conflict. Captured boys are forced into child soldiering and girls are used as sex slaves or babysitters (`ting-tings').

Ugandan aid worker George Omoma has tracked the carnage left in the LRA's wake across three countries, where children are not so much collateral damage, as the focus of LRA activity.

"Kony tells his people that it is not you [adults] that will overthrow the [Ugandan] government, it is the children. He wants to create a new generation of the LRA," Omoma told IRIN.

Omoma is in Dungu helping to establish a rehabilitation centre for child victims of the LRA by the Catholic Church and NGOs Sponsoring Children and the San- Diego-based Invisible Children. When operations start later this year, the facility will be able to provide accommodation, counselling, training and education to hundreds of former child soldiers and abductees.

Joyce Neu of the Carter Center had a three-hour meeting with Kony and his senior command on 24 February 2000 in Nsitu, Sudan, and although he "did not admit to having abductees in the LRA... Sam Ottoa [now known as Sam Kolo] let slip references to `the children' three times, each time he quickly corrected it with 'our brothers'," she told IRIN.

Kolo, an LRA political officer, headed negotiations with Betty Bigombe in 2004, but became a Kony assassination target. He escaped with Bigombe in a helicopter the UN provided her with to conduct another round of negotiations. He now lives in Gulu, Uganda.

A February 2004 report by the Refugee Law Project, Behind the Violence: Causes, Consequences and the Search for Solutions to the War in Northern Uganda, [ http://www.refugeelawproject.org/working_papers/RLP.WP11.pdf ] provides the rationale for Kony using children as "a vital resource" for his war. LRA activity in Uganda ended in 2006.

Haunted by the LRA

As in other conflicts where child soldiers have been used "they are easily malleable to whatever purpose Kony wants, and are very quick to obey his orders" and "forcing children to kill their friends or family members in front of other abductees instills fear into them and discourages them from escaping," the report said. "The LRA views nine to 12-year-olds as the most desirable combatant age-group."

Josephine Inopayngba, 27, a counsellor in Dungu for former child soldiers and LRA abductees, told IRIN the fear instilled by LRA methods haunt their victims long-after they have escaped or been released by the armed group.

She said an escapee from the LRA made pregnant by rape "told me she wanted to kill her child at birth. I told her the child is innocent. She said kids kill their parents and she was afraid the child would grow up and kill her."

Inopayngba said in her experience in the past two years as a counsellor, three families had refused to accept their children back after they had become child soldiers: "They cannot understand it is the fault of the LRA, not the child."

The initiation of child soldiers, she said, involves practices like executing other abductees. "They will ask them [porters] if they want to take a rest and if they say `yes' they will allow one of the children to kill them."

Justin Minanbu, 15, was kidnapped by the LRA from South Sudan 14 months ago, escaped nine months later and has spent the past five months living with a host family in Dungu while his relatives are traced. Both of his parents are dead. He was used as a porter and a servant for an LRA commander.

"I was beaten often by the commander with the flat side of a panga, for any mistakes. Like if the fire was not good," he said. Two of the group of eight LRA fighters he travelled with were child soldiers aged about 13 and they were "good to me. Sometimes the commander would order them to punish me and they would beat me. But after that we would play like friends," Minanbu said.

Joseph Angoyo, chief of Aba's hospital, about 20km south of the South Sudan border, told IRIN under the supervision of an official from the DRC intelligence service, "the longer the captivity, the worse the condition".

Angoyo said the hospital treats about 10 former abductees a month and many are suffering from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), mainly syphilis he said. The youngest victim he had treated for an STD was a seven-year-old girl.

Breeding child soldiers

Dominic Ongwen has risen through the ranks to become the LRA's most senior commander in the DRC and is the armed group's most notorious example of a kidnapped boy forced into child soldiering and who is now wanted for crimes against humanity and war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

Sam Otto Ladere has appeared on the radar with a similar personnel history to Ongwen. He commands a group of 17 fighters falling under the command of Vincent Okumu Binany in the DRC.

Matthew Brubacher, political affairs officer working with the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC's (MONUSCO's) Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) unit, and an LRA specialist based in the eastern DRC city of Goma, told IRIN Ladere was abducted at a young age from a village west of Gulu.

"Ladere is one of the up and coming commanders. He is very trusted. This was evidenced by his being placed as chief of intelligence after Maj-Gen Acellam Ceasar was suspended following the execution of Lt-Gen Vincent Otti on 2 October 2007, even though Ladere was only a captain," he said. DDRRR is working on a radio message on their FM network to try and lure him out of the bush.

Omoma said former abductees and child soldiers had told him of Ladere's brutality.

Kony has taken many wives. At the Juba peace talks in 2006 it was estimated he had about 80 wives and it is unknown how many children the rebel leader has fathered.

"I don't know how many Kony kids are active in the LRA, probably quite a few. There are a few bush kids now that were born and bred in the LRA. They are pretty wild when they come out as they have never known civilization," Brubacher said.
go/cb [END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95168


DRC: Landmines hurting farmers' livelihoods

KABALO, 26 March 2012 (IRIN) - Landmines planted about a decade ago in parts of Kabalo territory in the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) southeastern Katanga Province are adversely affecting farming livelihoods, and an important World Food Programme (WFP) project.

"In our area, there are villages where we get much harvest but the road leading to those villages [has] landmines," a food trader from Kabalo said.

Lorries often get blown up by the landmines, Birindwa Murhula, a leader of one of the local food traders' associations, told IRIN. 

Kabalo, formerly the breadbasket of mineral-rich Katanga Province, was affected by DRC's 1998-2003 civil wars. The Mpaye area, for example, served as a demarcation zone separating belligerents when Zimbabwean-backed DRC army troops clashed with the rebel Rassemblement Congolais Pour la Democratie, which was backed by the Rwandan Army.

Mpaye is still affected by landmines, making the transportation of food from local villages to trading centres and beyond a challenge. 

In the past, the NGO Danish Church Aid (DCA [ http://www.danchurchaid.org/what-we-do/mine-action/dr-congo ]) helped to demine Kabalo but stopped work in the first half of 2012 due to a lack of funding. 

Katanga Province is among those affected by landmines and other explosive remnants of war in the DRC, according to the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre. Other affected provinces include Eastern Kasai, Equateur, Maniema, North Kivu, Orientale, South Kivu and Western Kasai. 

While "relative stability has resulted in a significant increase in the mobility of [the] population and a considerable increase in activities such as: preparation of land for agriculture, irrigation ditches, movement of livestock, timber cutting, village to village trade and large-scale movement of IDPs [internally displaced persons] and refugees returning to their homes, all of these activities are greatly increasing the risk and exposure of the local population to landmines and UXO [unexploded ordnance]," warned a 2011 Mine Action report. [ http://www.mineaction.org/downloads/1/portfoliofinal.pdf

WFP micro-credit project

The presence of the landmines could also erode gains the food traders are attributing to the WFP Purchase for Progress Programme (P4P) [ http://www.wfp.org/purchase-progress/overview ] which is helping to link them with small farmers in the area.

"Traders who have resumed working thanks to P4P micro-credit cannot go to the villages that always harvest good maize," explained Murhula. 

Thanks to P4P, traders can access micro-credit loans of up to US$2,000 which they use to buy maize or rice from farmers, who are also P4P beneficiaries, to sell to towns such as Bukavu, Kalemie, Lubumbashi, Mbuji-Mayi and Uvira in neighbouring provinces. Some 12,000 farmers and 120 traders in Kabalo are P4P beneficiaries.

A market for farmers' produce has meant that they now have access to improved incomes, though this has not led to improved nutrition among the P4P implementing villages, in a country where half the population has nutrient deficiency. [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/94893/DRC-Untapped-potential-some-data ]

The poor transport system, price fixing and delays in buying produce from farmers are further challenges. "If I buy maize 90km [away], I cannot offer the same price like when I buy at Kabalo business centre," said a trader.

P4P is helping to connect small rural farmers in developing countries to markets, leveraging WFP's position as a major staple food buyer. WFP has an annual US$1.25 billion procurement budget and already has an institutional platform in some of the poorest countries.

In neighbouring Uganda, at least 25,000 farmers are participating in the P4P programme selling their produce to WFP and gaining access to credit. Based on the quality, quantity and location of the farmer's produce in the warehouse, the farmers can obtain a warehouse receipt which serves as security for micro-credit access.

According to a WFP brief, the programme aims to buy some 500,000 tons of food in 21 developing countries where the scheme is being piloted between 2008 and 2013.
pc-ca/aw/cb [END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95167


SECURITY: Cracking open the LRA to better eliminate it

DUNGU, 21 March 2012 (IRIN) - After seven years held captive by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), 16-year-old Apiyo Tabisa's release five months ago in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) along with a dozen or so others was as sudden as her abduction from Uganda.

Vincent Binany - deputy to senior LRA commander and International Criminal Court (ICC) war crimes indictee Dominic Ongwen - "gave us no reason. He left us by the side of the road and just told us to go to the soldiers [Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC)]," she told IRIN.

She spent seven years wandering the frontier lands of the DRC, South Sudan and Uganda as a porter and cook and witnessed "too many [killings] to remember. There were just too many," said Tabisa, who is awaiting repatriation from Dungu (northeastern DRC) once her relatives have been traced.

"Some were shot or beaten with pieces of wood. I don't know why. If you make a mistake they kill you. If you have witchcraft, they kill you. There does not have to be a reason," Tabisa said. "Seeing the killings and the beatings - that was always the worst. If you say something [to object to the killings] they kill you."

Matthew Brubacher, political affairs officer working with the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO)'s Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) unit, and an LRA specialist based in the eastern DRC city of Goma, told IRIN: "We still don't know why they were released [by Binany]," but answering such questions is key to developing strategies to dismantling the armed group.

Why so durable?

Why has Joseph Kony's LRA, which has raped, abducted and pillaged for the past 25 years survived so long?

>From the early 1990s, the LRA conducted raids into northern Uganda from bases in eastern Equatoria in southern Sudan (now the independent state of South Sudan), where President Omar al-Bashir co-opted and supplied the group to fight the then-rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army, which in turn enjoyed support from Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

>From 2005, the LRA began moving into areas of the DRC close to the border with Sudan. More recently, the LRA has also been active in the Central African Republic.

The undeveloped frontier lands with scarce infrastructure, weak government and isolated communities enabled the LRA to forage for food, and kidnap - boys for child soldiers and girls as sex slaves.

At the core of the LRA's ability to survive and outwit their numerically superior opponents was "maintaining secrecy in the LRA", said a World Bank June 2011 report entitled Diagnostic Study of the LRA [ http://www.tdrp.net/PDFs/LRA_DiagnosticStudy_1.pdf ] authored by Philip Lancaster, Guillaume Lacaille and Ledio Cakaj.

"Kony appears to understand that one cannot defeat the enemy one does not know, and consequently masks the LRA behind a curtain of mystery. The rituals performed in the LRA, some military in nature, others religious, are in part designed to maintain the secrecy and mystery of the LRA - much like a secret society or a cult," the report said.

Runners and fliers

The LRA's few hundred core fighters are dispersed across a region about half the size of France spanning three fragile countries. Modern methods of communication, such as satellite phones (there is little to no coverage for mobile phones in much of the region) are eschewed as they can be tracked by satellite and reconnaissance aircraft. Runners are used to carry messages, with this task often entrusted to the senior ranks.

Onen Unita - an officer serving under senior LRA commander Okot Odhiambo who, like Kony, is wanted for war crimes by the ICC - was used as a runner to convey decisions to other commanders in the DRC taken at a meeting in CAR in June 2011.

Lt-Col Golam Faruque, chief coordinator of MONUSCO's Joint Intelligence Operating Cell based in Dungu, which collates information about the armed group, told IRIN: "We know about the meeting, but we don't know anything of what decisions were taken," but added that in the second half of 2011 the number of violent incidents in the DRC attributed to the LRA decreased substantially. He also noted that armed groups have high and low periods of activity.

Ian Rowe, DDRRR head of Orientale Province based in Dungu and working to eliminate the group, tries to gather intelligence based on snippets of information.

Unlike his counterparts in eastern DRC where mobile phone communication with potential defectors is a vital tool in convincing the officer class of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) to defect, [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/93634/Analysis-Sapping-the-strength-of-DRC-militias ] no such avenue exists with the LRA.

Instead, there is a reliance on leaflet distribution guaranteeing amnesty, except for those indicted by the ICC, and a network of FM radios conveying a similar message to LRA combatants in a variety of languages, including Acholi and Lingala, in the three affected countries.

Rowe said the fliers are either air-dropped by MONUSCO, or distributed by FARDC in the DRC and by the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) in CAR and South Sudan, "and put on trees or along waterways, as historically the LRA follow waterways".

MONUSCO's DDRRR has produced 30,000 flyers for distribution, showing photographs of recent escapees in the past few years, which those still "remaining in the bush" were likely to recognize, Rowe said.

"We just had a Kony wife surrender in Djema. She saw the wife of Odhiambo on one of our leaflets disseminated by the UPDF in eastern CAR. That convinced her to leave, despite Kony telling her that the woman had been killed shortly after the picture was taken," Brubacher said.

"Our inability to communicate, deal or negotiate with the LRA directly and effectively. means that for the most part, we have very little idea as to the extent our messages are getting through," Rowe said

It was difficult to put a precise number on the penetration of the messaging by DDRRR, but he said some estimates of 75 percent were probably an "overestimation of the number of escapees we're receiving in Dungu who state having seen or heard our messaging."

Assembly points

In September 2011, another LRA commander, Ocan Bunia, died, reportedly of malaria, in the DRC, and a number of captives were released. At their debriefing there were indications that fighters in the group had also wanted to defect, but had no way of safely doing so.

Ugandan LRA defectors are met with hostility by affected communities and MONUSCO's DDRRR programme has embarked on an awareness-raising programme to try and convince people to hand them over to the authorities rather than mete out their own form of justice, which acts as another barrier to the LRA's disarmament and demobilization, Brubacher said, and has led to bizarre acts by LRA fighters.

"The last LRA commandant who surrendered jumped onto the road naked in front of a Caritas motorcycle. When the motorcycle driver agreed to help him surrender, the LRA fighter went back into the forest and got his gun and uniform. That is how hard it is to surrender," he said.

The incident with Bunia acted as a catalyst to develop the concept of assembly points, which are at least 10-15km from the closest communities. Two sites have been identified northeast of Dungu, one north of Faradje, one in Garamba National Park, and one south of Bangadi.

Rowe said 30,000 fliers detailing the locations, funded by the San Diego-based NGO Invisible Children, would be distributed to make these sites known, and it was expected the concept would be rolled out regionally.

MONUSCO has agreed to send patrols to these sites twice a week to check-up on any LRA defectors. "It is the best we can do for these people [defectors]. Although they might have to hang around for a few days before being picked-up."
go/cb [END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95109



DRC-UGANDA: Congolese refugees hail Lubanga verdict

ISINGIRO, 19 March 2012 (IRIN) - Congolese refugees in Oruchinga camp, southwestern Uganda, have welcomed the International Criminal Court's (ICC) guilty verdict [ http://www.icc-cpi.int/NR/exeres/A70A5D27-18B4-4294-816F-BE68155242E0.htm ] against former Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) rebel leader Thomas Lubanga. Some of the refugees are survivors of attacks by Lubanga's forces.

On March 14, Lubanga was convicted of the war crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them to take part in hostilities.

"All things Lubanga did were bad. He took away the riches of the Congolese people by force. I am happy he has been found guilty for his atrocities and crimes," said Mark Bolikango, 18, who fled to Uganda from Goma in eastern DRC. "What I don't know is whether my mother and sister have HIV/AIDS; [Lubanga's] soldiers raped them in front of me."
 
Francis Tumba Pandemoya who fled Bunia, the main town in the northeastern region of Ituri where Lubanga's forces were active, said: "It's a wonderful decision by the ICC. Lubanga recruited Congolese children to become soldiers and ordered them to commit several atrocities and war crimes. Lubanga was a killer. His militia killed the Congolese and raped women. I want him to be jailed for 25 years. Others will learn from it."
 
According to Peter Iyolo, formerly from Bunia's Wacha area, too many Congolese are in Uganda as refugees because of Lubanga's atrocities. "We fled our country because of war," he said.
 
As of 1 February, some 89,949 Congolese refugees were living in Uganda, according to the UN Refugee Agency. But the number is steadily rising with dozens of refugees arriving in Uganda [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/94966/UGANDA-DRC-refugee-influx-stretching-camp-facilities ] every day from parts of eastern DRC.
 
Warning

Some refugees said they were optimistic Lubanga's conviction will deter other militia leaders and are calling on the ICC to cast its net wider. "It's a warning to the remaining criminals who are still continuing to recruit children and killing our people. If you are a criminal, one day you will be arrested, prosecuted and convicted," said Salome Keza, a refugee. 

A nursing mother at the refugee camp said: "I am tired of people laughing at us as refugees. I believe after Lubanga's conviction, the guns will go silent. We need to return; it's not easy to live as a refugee." 

"Was he [Lubanga] the only one who committed atrocities in Congo? All perpetrators of violence and atrocities in Congo must be arrested and held accountable. Massacres and mayhem are still continuing," said Furaha Kavira, who hails from North Kivu.

Joseph Akonkwa, who fled his village near Bukavu in South Kivu Province, was more skeptical. "Laurent Nkunda [a former leader of another DRC rebel group, now thought to be under house arrest in Rwanda] committed serious atrocities in Congo. He killed, and looted minerals. Why hasn't he been taken to the ICC? Is it because Lubanga killed UN troops?" he asked, referring to his alleged role in the 2005 killing of nine Bangladeshi blue helmets in Ituri.

"Recruiting children into the army by Lubanga versus killing and the looting of our resources that Nkunda did - which one is good?" he asked.

Nkunda was arrested [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/82564/DRC-Civilians-at-risk-from-further-fighting-after-Nkunda-arrest ] on 22 January 2009 as he tried to escape a joint Congolese-Rwandan military offensive. He claimed to be protecting minority Tutsis in the east from the Forces démocratique pour la libération de Rwanda (FDLR), which included the Hutu militia blamed for the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Lubanga's trial was the first to be decided by the ICC; refugees and analysts [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95073/DRC-Lubanga-verdict-a-first-step ] are calling for more arrests and convictions. 
so/aw/cb[END]
This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=95104