Congo Watch: Eight Red Cross staff kidnapped near Fizi in South Kivu by Mai Mai Yakutumba militia

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Eight Red Cross staff kidnapped near Fizi in South Kivu by Mai Mai Yakutumba militia

Red Cross: 8 staff kidnapped in eastern Congo
From The Associated Press, Tuesday, 13 April 2010:
GENEVA - Eight Red Cross staff have been kidnapped by an armed group in eastern Congo, the international aid agency said Tuesday.

The seven Congolese and one Swiss national were seized Friday afternoon near the town of Fizi in South Kivu province by the Mai Mai Yakutumba rebels, the International Committee of the Red Cross said in Geneva.

"The ICRC has been able to get in touch with some of our colleagues after the incident," spokesman Marcal Izard told The Associated Press.

He declined to say whether the Red Cross is in contact with the kidnappers.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry said it was aware of the situation and was in touch with the Red Cross and Congolese authorities.

The Red Cross has several offices in South Kivu, which like much of eastern Congo has been wracked by violence since the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda spilled war across the border. The shadowy Mai Mai militia is one of many armed groups in the area. Their fighters have been seen using rudimentary weapons like spears and their group is believed to value mysticism.

In early 2009, a top rebel leader from another militia was arrested and the Congolese government began a campaign to integrate all militias, including the Mai Mai, into the national army.

"It is in order to protect and assist armed-conflict victims that we have been carrying out our activities in the area," said Franz Rauchenstein, the head of the ICRC's mission in Congo.

"We continue to insist that the strictly neutral, impartial and humanitarian nature of our work be recognized, and that our colleagues be able to return to their loved ones soon," he said in a statement.

Staff of the neutral aid group have also been targeted for kidnapping in other conflict regions recently.

Three foreign Red Cross workers were kidnapped in the Philippines last year, and French staff members were seized in Chad and Sudan. All have since been released.

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