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Congo, Democratic Republic of the

In eastern DR Congo, up to 250,000 flee attacks by Rwandan rebel group

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0187/Kavanagh
In recent weeks, thousands of Congolese families in North Kivu have fled attacks by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, a Rwandan Hutu rebel group.

NEW YORK, USA, 13 April, 2009 – Since January, more than 250,000 people have fled fighting in North Kivu province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, adding further strain to an already grave humanitarian situation facing children and families there. Some 800,000 Congolese remain displaced from the past two years of conflict in the province.

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In January and February, the Congolese and Rwandan armed forces conducted a joint military operation in North Kivu against the Rwandan Hutu militia, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). The leaders of the FDLR allegedly took part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, after which they fled to eastern DR Congo and took control of large amounts of territory and resources by force.

At first, this year’s joint operation against the FDLR seemed to bring some hope for peace. Over 350,000 displaced Congolese were able to return home for the first time in months or even years. But since the end of the operation, the rebels have returned to the north and central areas of North Kivu, attacking civilians and targeting humanitarian relief convoys and non-governmental organizations. Hundreds have died.

Machete attack
At the Heal Africa Hospital in Goma, Nyirazibera Nyiyosenga, 27, still struggled to talk, weeks after she was attacked by an FDLR rebel who had come to take revenge on the villagers accused of collaborating with the joint operation. Fluid still seeped from the machete wound to Ms. Nyiyosenga‘s head, and she had lost movement on the left side of her body.

“If the nerves in her head don’t recover, she’ll be paralyzed,” said the director of nursing at Heal Africa, Papy Boendi. “She won’t be able to go to her fields, and it will be difficult for her to take care of her children.”

Women such as Ms. Nyiyosenga undertake most of the housework and farm work in DR Congo, in addition to caring for their children.

Children killed
Mutawera Shimani, 38, from Ziralo district, fled to a camp in South Kivu with hundreds of others after the militia attacked his village. “I was sitting in my house when the FDLR came,” he said. “I heard the gunfire. I saw my children hit by bullets, and watched them die.”

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0189/Kavanagh
Nyirazibera Nyiyosenga, 27, hit by a machete wielded by a soldier from the FDLR, lost movement on her left side and couldn’t speak for 10 days after she was wounded in early February.

Two of Mr. Mutawera’s five children were killed in the attack, and he doesn’t know if his oldest child is dead or alive; he hasn’t seen the boy since that day.

Throughout the province, aid workers report thousands of similar stories. In Lubero territory, where the violence is worst, the FDLR are reportedly stopping buses, executing the drivers and burning the vehicles.

‘Fluid and volatile’ situation
The upsurge in attacks has made it increasingly difficult for aid groups to reach the newly displaced and assess their needs.

In many camps for the displaced, food rations have been cut to encourage people to start returning home – but the push looks like it might have been premature. As the emergency in one part of North Kivu dies out, the newest crisis flares up, causing more civilian deaths, illness and suffering.

In a statement, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the situation in North Kivu as “fluid and volatile,” and called for continued international attention.




March 2009: UNICEF Radio reports on families displaced by revenge attacks in North Kivu, DR Congo, in recent weeks.
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