Congo Watch: May 2010

Sunday, May 02, 2010

UN investigates claims of unreported February massacre in N.E. DR Congo

A senior UN official says as many as 100 people were killed in the alleged attack, which is believed to have taken place in February

John Holmes, the UN humanitarian chief, said on a visit to the country that an investigation was under way.

If the claims are true it would bring the number of people killed between December and March to more than 500.

The UN says that in the same period, more than 300 others - nearly half of them children - were abducted. An unknown number of villagers were also mutilated, according to the UN.

Source: BBC News - see report here below, plus eight others from DR Congo.

Photo of DR Congo LRA kidnap victim:
“They told me I was talking too much”


U.N. Says Congo Rebels Killed Scores in Village

LRA kidnap victim Marie Mbolihundele, who says she was held by three LRA rebels in a northern area of Niangara, DR Congo two weeks ago, says they sliced her lips off and one of her ears.
"They ordered me to lie down on the ground and they told me I shouldn't scream or they would kill me," she said.

"I started to pray, and then they pulled my lips with pliers and cut them off with a knife. Then they told me to run, so I stood up and fled."
Source: BBC report (see below) by Thomas Fessy in DR Congo 02 May 2010.

Photo: A 23-year-old woman wore a bandage in a Niangara, Congo, hospital on Saturday, 17 days after a group of Lord’s Resistance Army rebels cut off her lips and right ear during an attack. (Photographer Jehad Nga for The New York Times) Source: NYT report here below.

U.N. Says Congo Rebels Killed Scores in Village
From The New York Times
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
Saturday 01 May 2010
(KISANGANI, Congo) - United Nations officials said Saturday that the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel force killed up to 100 people in a previously unreported massacre in the remote northeastern corner of this country.

Details are still emerging of exactly what happened. But according to John Holmes, the United Nation’s top humanitarian official, the L.R.A. struck a small village in February, two months after it killed more than 300 people from several villages in the surrounding area.

United Nations investigators have spoken with several witnesses and victims of the massacre in February, including two fishermen who said they saw dozens of bodies.

But the investigators have been unable to reach the exact location because of the difficulties of traveling in one of the most rugged and isolated corners of Africa.

Mr. Holmes said that while recent military operations may have weakened the L.R.A., “they are still capable of wreaking absolute havoc — and they still do.”

He said he learned about the February attack on Saturday, when he met with local authorities and victims in Niangara, an old trading post hidden away in the Congolese jungle that has recently been ringed by roving bands of L.R.A. marauders.

One of the people he met was a young woman whose lips had been sliced off last month. She was attacked by rebels while working in her field, she said Saturday, sitting in a hospital bed, her face a mask of gauze and tape.

“They told me I was talking too much,” she said.

The L.R.A. has been waging a brutal and bizarre rebellion for more than 20 years, starting in northern Uganda in the late 1980s.

Originally, it said it was guided by the Ten Commandments, but soon it was breaking every one, massacring and mutilating civilians and becoming notorious for kidnapping young children and turning them into 4-foot-tall killing machines.

The Ugandan Army eventually drove the L.R.A. out of Uganda but the rebels simply marched into neighboring northeastern Congo, where they set up bases in isolated areas.

Recently, the Ugandan military has killed dozens of fighters hiding out in Congo and the Central African Republic, though the L.R.A.’s leader, Joseph Kony, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on crimes against humanity, is still on the loose.

In the December massacre, the L.R.A. killed more than 300 people in a brutal recruitment campaign near Niangara, in which a few dozen rebel fighters abducted hundreds of civilians, marching them in a human chain from village to village. Along the way, the fighters beat to death men, women and children they did not want to keep in their ranks.

“For anyone saying that the L.R.A. is finished, I would be careful not to count them out,” Mr. Holmes said. “They have an amazing capacity to regenerate themselves, especially by kidnapping children.”
Top UN man investigates massacre claims in DR Congo
From BBC News by THOMAS FESSY in DR Congo
03:48 GMT, Sunday, 2 May 2010 04:48 UK - excerpt:
Nearly half the people abducted by LRA were children, the UN says

Photo: Nearly half the people abducted were children, the UN says

A senior UN official says as many as 100 people were killed in the alleged attack, which is believed to have taken place in February.

John Holmes, the UN humanitarian chief, said on a visit to the country that an investigation was under way.

If the claims are true it would bring the number of people killed between December and March to more than 500.

Mr Holmes said rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army had carried out the massacre in the village of Kpanga in the north-east of the country, near the border with southern Sudan and the Central African Republic.

After visiting the remote town of Niangara, near the site of the alleged killings, Mr Holmes said an investigation had been launched to find out exactly what had happened.

It would bring the total number of people killed in DR Congo between December and March to more than 500.

The UN says that in the same period, more than 300 others - nearly half of them children - were abducted. An unknown number of villagers were also mutilated, according to the UN.

Among them is Marie Mbolihundele, who says she was held by three LRA rebels in a northern area of Niangara two weeks ago. She says they sliced her lips off and one of her ears.

"They ordered me to lie down on the ground and they told me I shouldn't scream or they would kill me," she said.

"I started to pray, and then they pulled my lips with pliers and cut them off with a knife. Then they told me to run, so I stood up and fled." (...)
An Indian peacekeeper from Monuc

Photo: An Indian peacekeeper from Monuc, the United Nations Mission in Congo, on patrol. (Photograph: Emmanuel Braun/Reuters) Source: see Guardian report here below

Lord's Resistance Army massacres up to 100 in Congolese village
From The Guardian
By ASSOCIATED PRESS ‎(NIANGARA, DR Congo)
Sunday 02 May 2010 - excerpt:
Among recent victims Holmes met was Cornelia Yekpalile, a 23-year-old mother of four, who was mutilated 18 days ago when she went to fields near her village of Kpizimbi, set in dense forest in north-eastern Congo, to collect spinach-like pondu leaves to cook for lunch.
At Niangara hospital, where she is being cared for by Médecins sans Frontières, Yekpalile said she would not be going home when her wounds healed.

"There's no security in the villages," she said. "Here there are soldiers."

She said she had no idea why the rebels hacked off her lips and her right ear. "I was crying for mercy and crying 'Oh my God, oh my God, help me.' They said they would kill me if I carried on making a noise and then they did this," she said, pressing a bandage to a mouth covered in plaster.
UN says investigating LRA massacre of 100 in Congo
From The Washington Post
By THOMAS HUBERT (Reuters) in NYANGARA, DR Congo
(Additional reporting and writing by David Lewis; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)
Sunday 02 May 2010; 10:38 AM - excerpt:
Leontine Masini, another resident, spoke of a six-month ordeal that ended when she escaped as the fighters were asleep.

"They take wooden sticks and ask those who have been captured to hit someone with that stick on the head. If you don't kill that person, you are being hit too," she said.

The 25 year-old said she had witnessed so many murders that "there is no way" to put a number on it. "I did hit people. I didn't kill them, so I got hit, too," she added.
UN reports massacre of 100 villagers in Congo
From The Associated Press by MICHELLE FAUL in NIANGARA, Congo
Sunday, 02 May 2010 - excerpt:
When Holmes visited the village of Mwenga on Friday, he was met by women singing a poignant song. "We are the living dead. They rape us! There's no life without women. There can be no Congo without women," they sang. Tears ran down the faces of some of the chanting women.

On Sunday, Holmes visits Mbandaka in northwest Congo, where a new rebellion has erupted. Enyele militiamen this month attacked U.N. peacekeepers guarding the airport, killing a Ghanaian peacekeeper and a South African pilot along with some 20 civilians.

That rebellion, in Equateur province, began between tribesmen fighting over farming and fishing rights. But the Enyele militiamen, in an Easter Sunday attack, targeted strategic and government locations. It took Congolese troops and U.N. peacekeepers two days' fighting to retake the airport. (...)

Mattia Novella, field coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, said they see few wounded patients. "As I understand it, they do not wound, they kill, that's why we don't received many injured people."
Ugandan Rebels Kill 100 Civilians in Congo, UN Says (Update1)
From Bloomberg BusinessWeek
By MICHAEL J. KAVANAGH in KISANGANI, DR Congo
Sunday, 02 May 2010, 5:52 AM EDT
(Editors: Alastair Reed, Stephen Taylor.
To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Kavanagh in Kisangani at mkavanagh9@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Richardson at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net) - excerpt:
The LRA has killed almost 1,800 Congolese civilians since 2007, including 407 since December, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The February attacks could bring the total above 500, it said. (...)

A joint military operation against the rebels by the Congolese and Ugandan armies began in December 2008, with the Ugandans getting support and training from the U.S. The offensive has weakened and scattered the LRA throughout northeastern Congo, southern Sudan and the Central African Republic, Holmes said. “Unfortunately, this scattering makes it even more dangerous than before,” he said.

The rebels are now traveling in groups of five to 10, attacking villages and threatening civilians, Holmes said. As many as 300,000 people have been displaced by LRA attacks and hundreds have been kidnapped, according to the OCHA. (...)

The region where the rebels operate is remote and hard to access, complicating efforts by the army and peacekeepers to secure villages and provide aid to the displaced.

The Congolese government has asked the UN peacekeepers to leave the country by 2011, something Holmes said would be detrimental to the fight against the LRA. “The presence of MONUC in the territory is essential in terms of protection of civilians,” he said.

“We’ve tried to finish this movement militarily many times. We’ve tried politically with a peace accord that wasn’t signed,” he said. “It’s up to the international community to come up with a solution to end this reign of terror.”
UN says Congo pull-out would undermine aid work
From The Washington Post
By THOMAS HUBERT (Reuters) in BUKAVU, DR Congo
(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Maria Golovnina)
Saturday, 01 ‎May 2010‎ - excerpt:
Aid groups say Congo's national army is responsible for atrocities against the civilians they are charged to protect.

The U.N. is resisting pressure from Congolese President Joseph Kabila to start pulling out its force, known as MONUC, by the 50th anniversary of Congo's independence on June 30. (...)

U.N. peacekeepers have been in the central African nation since a 1998-2003 war that killed millions. The force has since grown in the world's largest global peacekeeping mission.

Congo's government says however that it is time for U.N. forces to pull out because of increasing evidence that its forces are prepared to fill the gap left by MONUC's departure.

During Holmes' visit to south Kivu, a region in Congo's east where Rwandan Hutu FDLR rebels are active, a villager told him she was afraid of government forces in the next town.

"The 14th brigade, which is based in Kitutu and has a bad reputation, must be taken out for our protection," she told him.

Belgium's ambassador to Kinshasa, Dominique Struye de Swielande, said this month he was concerned about a hasty withdrawal of MONUC forces.
UN relief chief speaks out against Ugandan rebel violence in DR Congo
From UN News Centre - Saturday 01 May 2010 - excerpt:
In Niangara today, Mr. Holmes heard first-hand accounts from survivors, including one woman whose lips and ear had been torn off two days ago in a typically barbaric and inexplicable attack.

“This is unacceptable. We need a rapid solution to what has become a regional crisis,” he emphasized.

In meetings with authorities and humanitarian workers in the area, the official voiced concern that the possible drawdown of the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, known as MONUC, could have negative effects on the protection of civilians and on humanitarian access.

“MONUC is a deterrent for the LRA, and its presence is also essential to humanitarian operations in this province,” he stated. “I am concerned that their departure could increase the suffering of civilians, and reduce our ability to help them.”

Seven UN agencies and 23 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) carry out humanitarian work in Orientale Province's Haut-Uele and Bas-Uele districts, combined are home to at least 320,000 persons uprooted by LRA-related violence.

Due to the ongoing threat posed by the group's presence, the internally displaced persons (IDPs) have little prospects of returning home in the near future.

Aid workers have been able to reach nearly two-thirds of the displaced population, but face obstacles on a daily basis due to insecurity and the inaccessibility of many of the IDPs in an area with little or no road coverage.

Yesterday, Mr. Holmes visited uprooted people in Mwenga, approximately 80 kilometres south-west of the city of Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province, also in northeast DRC.

“Civilians continue to suffer enormously and disproportionately in this armed conflict,” he said in Mwenga, where he helped launch a new feeding programme of the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

North and South Kivu provinces have been ravaged by armed conflict mainly pitting DRC's national army against insurgents of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, better known as FDLR, the group's French acronym.

Local armed militias and bandits also contribute to insecurity in the two Kivu provinces, where an estimated 1.4 million people are internally displaced, more than 70 per cent of whom live with host families, increasing the burden on a population with already-scarce resources.
D.R. Congo: UN Humanitarian Chief Condemns LRA Violence
From United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
Saturday 01 May 2010 (via ReliefWeb):
(Kinshasa/New York/Geneva, 01 May 2010): On the third day of his visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes visited the troubled Haut-Uele District of Orientale Province, located in north-eastern DRC on the border with Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR).

"In this district, the Lord's Resistance Army [LRA] has continued to commit horrific atrocities against civilians, who are now displaced with no prospect of going back home any time soon", Mr. Holmes said after a visit to Niangara, located approximately 90 kilometres west of the district capital Dungu. "This is unacceptable. We need a rapid solution to what has become a regional crisis," he said.

The area was the scene of one of the worst massacres recently committed by the LRA. During the second week of December 2009, over 300 civilians were reportedly killed and over 250, including at least 80 children, kidnapped. Since December 2007, around 1,800 civilians are thought to have been killed by the LRA, and 2,400 abducted, throughout the province. In Niangara, Mr. Holmes was able to hear first hand appalling testimony from survivors, including one woman whose lips and ear had been torn off two weeks ago in a typically barbaric and inexplicable attack.

During meetings with authorities and humanitarians there and in the provincial capital Kisangani, Mr. Holmes expressed concern that the possible drawdown of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) would have negative effects on the protection of civilians and humanitarian access. "MONUC is a deterrent for the LRA, and its presence is also essential to humanitarian operations in this province", he stated. "I am concerned that their departure could increase the suffering of civilians, and reduce our ability to help them", he added.

In addition to the DRC, the LRA has attacked civilians in Southern Sudan and the CAR, since being driven out of Northern Uganda some years ago.

Seven United Nations entities and 23 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) carry out humanitarian work in the Haut-Uele and Bas-Uele districts. The districts host at least 320,000 persons internally displaced by LRA-related violence. Because of the continued threat posed by the LRA's presence, they have little prospects of returning home in the near future. Humanitarians have been able to assist an estimated 65% of the displaced population, but they face obstacles on a daily basis due to persistent insecurity and the inaccessibility of many of the displaced, in an area with little or no road coverage.

For further information, please call: OCHA Kinshasa: Maurizio Giuliano, +243 995 901 533, giuliano@un.org; Stefania Trassari, +243 99 2906637, trassari@un.org; OCHA-New York: Stephanie Bunker, +1 917 367 5126, mobile +1 347 244 2106, bunker@un.org; Nicholas Reader, +1 212 963 4961, mobile +1 646 752 3117, reader@un.org,
OCHA-Geneva: Elisabeth Byrs, +41 22 917 2653, mobile +41 79 473 4570, byrs@un.org
OCHA press releases are available at http://ochaonline.un.org or www.reliefweb.int

The mission of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is to mobilize and coordinate effective and principled humanitarian action in partnership with national and international actors [end of copy]

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