Congo’s Violent Rape Epidemic Needs a Cure

Can the U.S. Army help stop an epidemic of rape and sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo? By David Axe

November is hot in Congo. Every month is hot in Congo. So it’s likely their faces shone with sweat when the first residents of Duru, in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, raced from mud hut to mud hut with a warning that sounded like, “El are ah!”.

That’s “LRA,” in French or the Congolese dialect Lingala. For years, the rebel Lord’s
Resistance Army has haunted northeastern Congo. Chased from neighboring Uganda in 2005 by the Ugandan army, the LRA found heavily forested, poorly governed Congo ideal for hiding and ripe for pillage. For more than two decades, the LRA had fought to establish a theocratic government based on a bizarre mix of fundamentalist Christianity and the voodoo messianic creed of founder Joseph Kony. In Congo, Kony and his few hundred surviving LRA fighters quickly lost all touch with their politics. Now they fight for no other reason than they can. What they need, and want, they simply take from
Congolese villages. That includes slaves: boys to carry looted goods; girls as prizes.

It was November 2009 when the LRA came to Duru, an isolated farming town of some 5,000 residents in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, just south of the Sudanese border. Word of the rebels’ approach spread quickly. Terrified Congolese streamed onto footpaths connecting Duru to Dungu, the nearest large town, some 50 miles away. They carried what they could, usually just the simple clothes on their backs and the colorful plastic sandals on their feet. Big families divided the children between mother and
father and fled in separate directions, so at least some might escape.

Elisee Anidawe and her older brother Jean-Pierre Balemgba followed their father through the low doorway of their hut and rushed down the path to Dungu. Beyond the open spaces of the town center, the tangle of 10-feet tall grass and 100-feet-tall trees rose on either side, forming a reedy green tunnel. “We had gone a distance on the road when we saw two men,” Anidawe recounted nearly a year later. She was 13 at the time of the interview, with a beautiful round face, perfect skin and dark brown eyes. When she described that day, her voice faded to a nearly inaudible whisper, and she sometimes stuttered. She said the men were armed. “Don’t be afraid,” she remembered them saying. “We’re soldiers.” “We thought they were Congolese soldiers,” Anidawe recalled.

They weren’t. And had they been, they still might not have helped. Over the years, the Congolese army has periodically deployed soldiers to Duru on orders to defend against LRA attacks. But the poorly-trained government troops never remain long, often being drawn away by the opportunity to extort workers at small-scale, “artisanal” mines. And even when they are present, the soldiers are sometimes as dangerous to civilians as their enemies are. “They raped, they stole, and when they saw the LRA, they ran away,” Ferruccio Gobbi, a Catholic priest, said of Congolese troops garrisoned in Duru in

It dawned on Anidawe that the armed men were not there to protect her. She, her brother and their father ran through the forest, but the LRA fighters, long accustomed to moving through the thick underbrush, quickly captured them. The children, the LRA wanted as slaves. A grown man, they had no use for. “They killed my papa,” Anidawe said, casting her eyes to the ground. What happened next was visibly painful for Anidawe to describe. The rebels carried her to their camp, where she was offered as a trophy to a rebel officer.
That same day, he raped her for the first time. He would continue to rape her for several months, like clockwork. As if that weren’t enough, the rebels handed the shy, delicate girl with the close-cropped hair a machete and told her she would become a killer like them, or they would cut off her rations.

She refused. They starved her. The cycle of torture continued until Anidawe and her brother managed to escape amid Ugandan army counterattacks.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

In late 2010, with her father dead and her mother missing, Anidawe and her brother lived with a foster family in a neighborhood of Dungu populated mostly by people displaced by the LRA. Anidawe is just one of at least 15,000 girls and women violently raped in Congo every year, according to the aid group Oxfam International. Thousands of additional sexual assaults likely go unreported. The U.N. has declared the country the “rape capital of the world.”

Oxfam has warned that escalating sexual violence in Congo could lead to countrywide anarchy.

Congo’s rape problem has compelled Oxfam to take action that has surprised some observers in the typically pacifist humanitarian community: In 2009, the group began actively lobbying Congo, the U.S., the U.K., France, the U.N. and the E.U., among other governments, to undertake in Congo a military initiative called “security sector reform” — the process of rebuilding a country’s security forces. “Congo needs to create an army that’s actually helping civilians rather than being a threat to them,” Oxfam’s Congo director Marcel Stoessel says.

The U.S. State Department and military — motivated not just by humanitarian concern but also, in part, by America’s large and growing demand for the rare minerals concentrated in Congo — have responded, as have the French, Belgian and South African governments. American troops have begun deploying to the country in hopes of addressing the sexual-violence epidemic.

Thanks to escalating American involvement, the basic elements of a reform campaign have started to fall into place. But more help and better coordination are clearly required, because so many of Congo’s gravest problems intersect in the culture of entitlement and sexual violence inside the Forces Armees de la Republique du Congo.

The FARDC is barely an army at all by Western standards; it’s more accurately described as a collection of loosely trained gunmen and former rebels who were offered military jobs in exchange for leaving opposition groups — and who routinely exploit the Congolese people instead of defending them. In principle, the Congolese army should represent the first line of defense against the Lord’s Resistance Army and other armed bands of serial rapists. In reality, the Congolese army is at best irrelevant and, at worst, actually part of the problem. The army’s failure to protect civilians allows groups such as the LRA to perpetrate systematic rape. Moreover, Congolese soldiers themselves are guilty of many rapes during their long marches across the country’s interior.

For reformers, the Congolese army offers a way into the rape crisis: Reform the FARDC, and you just might reform the rape state. Or so the thinking goes. The U.S. could play perhaps the biggest role in what Oxfam hopes will become an international campaign of army reform in Congo. Altruism aside, the world’s governments certainly have reason to join in. A more reliable FARDC would be better able to combat Congo’s many armed groups without also endangering civilians in the process – thus ensuring Congo’s stability and the world’s continued access to the country’s mineral reserves.

This access is no trivial matter. For many countries, including the U.S., Congo is the only economical source of certain vital minerals, including cobalt, a key component in electronic devices. Though deposits of the element do exist in some Midwestern states, the U.S. no longer mines them, instead importing the metal at a rate of 10,000 tons a year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s $300 million of cobalt. The biggest sources are China and Congo. It’s not an overstatement to say that the U.S. needs a stable Congo because it needs Congo to reliably churn out thousands of tons of valuable rocks.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Minerals have been a factor in military interventions throughout Congo’s modern history. On June 30, 1960, Belgium formally granted sovereignty to its former colony. In early July, the Congolese army mutinied. Four years of fighting ensued as Congo fractured along ethnic lines. Belgian business interests backed the secession of two provinces rich in diamonds, copper, uranium, gold, tin, tungsten, cobalt and other important minerals, some quite rare. The Belgians, the U.N. and the U.S. all sent troops.

For a period in 1960 and ’61, there were no fewer than four competing regimes in Congo, each with a different mix of foreign backers. The strongest belonged to army chief of staff Joseph Mobutu, who enjoyed the loyalty of troops in the capital and the support of powerful Western countries, including the U.S. In 1965, the CIA backed a successful coup by Mobutu.

Over the next 30 years, Mobutu crushed all political opponents in his drive to transform Congo. He renamed the country “Zaire,” nationalized major industries and amassed a personal fortune reported to be as large as billions of dollars. Meanwhile, Congo’s roads, cities and schools crumbled. When Mobutu died in 1997, Congo once more came apart at the seams. Rwandan troops chased Hutu extremists over the border and set themselves
up in lucrative, illegal mining operations. Rwanda and Uganda threw their support behind rebel leader Laurent Kabila, whose troops captured Kinshasa and installed him as president. When relations soured between Kabila and his former allies, Ugandan and Rwandan troops invaded to bolster anti-Kabila rebellions. Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe all took Kabila’s side.

The resulting conflict became known as “Africa’s World War.” Between 700,000 and 3 million people died, according to the most reliable estimates. Kabila was shot and killed by a bodyguard in 2001. His son Joseph took over on an emergency basis and, in 2006, won the country’s first democratic election in four decades.

The younger Kabila’s most important moves were to sign peace deals with Rwanda and, later, with several of the bigger rebel groups. As part of the latter deal, thousands of rebel fighters, some of them wanted war criminals, were invited to join the Congolese army in lieu of prosecution. “In Congo, peace must come before justice,” Kabila famously said.

While the major state-on-state fighting has now ended, uncounted rebel groups, both foreign and domestic in origin, survive in the rugged eastern half of the country, alongside rogue Congolese army elements also involved in the illicit “conflict minerals” trade. A 17,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force guards humanitarian workers and maintains eastern road and air links. The U.S., France, Belgium and other powers periodically send in military trainers and Special Forces units. The Ugandan army quietly tracks rebels, including the LRA, in the far east.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

On a typically muggy September day in the capital of Kinshasa, in Congo’s extreme west, Stoessel, the bookish former Swiss journalist now serving as Congo director for Oxfam, hauled a laptop computer and a stack of documents to a wooden table in his large, sunlit office. Oxfam has spent years and thousands of man-hours studying rape in Congo: These were the group’s findings. He opened a report dated June 2010. “Sexual violence was reported to be on the increase in 83 percent of the communities surveyed,” it read, “with the perpetrators largely militia fighters or soldiers.”

“It is estimated that tens of thousands of women have been systematically raped by combatant forces,” stated another of Stoessel’s reports, this one a collaboration between Oxfam and Harvard University dated April 2010. As for why the problem is getting worse, the report speculates that there’s a sort of feedback loop: the more sexual violence in a society, the more sexual violence there might be moving forward. “Have the years of rape by armed combatants exacerbated the low valuation of women within Congolese
society?” the report asked.

It seems they have. Between 2004 and 2008, the incidence of rape perpetrated by civilians, as opposed to combatants, jumped 17-fold in Congo. To Oxfam, that statistic heralds the possible unraveling of Congolese society. “Civilian adoption of sexual violence is quite disturbing, since it may well have longterm implications that will not be easily reversed,” the report with Harvard asserted. “This rise in civilian rape speaks to the reversal of a society’s norms and values.”

The patterns of sexual violence vary in different parts of eastern Congo. In North and South Kivu, border provinces rife with ethnic tension and teeming with Rwandan rebels, mass assaults are common. It was in the Kivus that at least 300 women, girls and babies were raped over a four-day period starting in late July 2010, allegedly by the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda rebel group. In Orientale province and other northeastern LRA haunts, abductions and forced marriages are the rule. In towns garrisoned by the Congolese army, soldiers assault women passing through checkpoints or invade their homes at night.

“Rape is an extremely effective wartime weapon,” the Oxfam-Harvard report explained. “It is strategically used to shame, demoralize and humiliate the enemy. By systematically raping women and girls, armed groups assert power and domination over not only the women, but their men as well.” For Congolese troops, rape is a way of punishing civilians suspected of collaborating with the indigenous Mai Mai rebel group, the report asserts.

Where rape is worst, so is instability. In just one case in May, limited attacks by a small number of LRA fighters along the border between Congo and Central African Republic sent some 15,000 refugees streaming south into Congo’s Bondo territory. It took the U.N. months to mobilize and transport the personnel and supplies necessary to build a temporary refugee camp in Bondo. In the meantime, people went hungry, fell sick and in some cases were exploited. Ironically, at least one girl was raped by some of the very people to whom she fled to escape sexual violence.

Oxfam estimated there are 2 million displaced people in Congo, though the real number could be much higher. Displacement disrupts health, education and agriculture, resulting in long-term food shortages, permanent unemployment and depressed life expectancy — currently just over 40 for a Congolese born today. Rape isn’t just a tragedy for the victims. It’s a key link in the chain of misfortune that binds all 65 million Congolese. The roughly 100,000-strong Congolese army is directly responsible for as much as 60 percent of the sexual violence in the country, according to Oxfam. And so, the group says, Congo can’t stop being a rape state until its security sector is reformed.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

U.S. efforts to recruit and train up the Iraqi and Afghan militaries may be the world’s most visible examples of security sector reform, but it has also played an important role in formerly heavily militarized societies in Indonesia and Ukraine and across Latin America and West Africa. This type of reform involves putting responsible leaders in the right positions and tweaking laws to shift the military’s roles and methods. Most of all, it means retraining foot soldiers to make sure they’re protecting, rather than preying on, civilians.

Security sector reform can be expensive, time-consuming and even dangerous, especially in a country like Congo, where security forces are strewn across all but inaccessible jungle and corruption is deeply entrenched. “It’s difficult to reform the Congolese army because it’s a collection of armed groups that’s been integrated — it’s not an army that’s been constructed from scratch,” Stoessel said. “There is very little discipline.”

Still, Stoessel said reform of the army is the only way to change Congo’s rape state. An end to rampant sexual violence would not only mean safer lives for girls like Anidawe, it might also mean greater stability for Congo and the rest of Central Africa, as an increasingly professional FARDC renders the country off limits to rebels and invading armies alike. This stability would also allow developed countries easier access to Congo’s resources.

Everyday Congolese have also called for security sector reform, although they don’t call it that. “When we as Oxfam speak with communities on the ground, they really cry out for army reform,” Stoessel said. It was nearly noon in Kinshasa as he spoke. The sun burned through the city’s signature haze of car exhaust, wood smoke and dust to illuminate the street crowds visible through the office windows. Stoessel sighed. “It will take at least 10 years for comprehensive security sector reform,” he said. “But it’s the only way get out of the horrible cycle of violence we’re in right now.”

It’s been roughly 18 months since Oxfam started pushing security reform in the world’s capitals. Though Kabila seems open to the idea, elsewhere it’s been tough going. Individually, countries are willing to work with the Congolese military; the Congolese military, by and large, is willing to have them. The French have sent soldiers, as have the Belgians and the South Africans. The Ugandans have offered to send trainers. But there’s no single vision, no grand plan. The 10-year countdown to meaningful reform still hasn’t started.

Economics might help explain the lack of an overarching plan. Basic access to Congo’s resources requires only a moderately functional Congolese state; slightly improved access to resources might not seem to justify the potential cost to donor nations of using their armies to drive lasting reform in Congo. Stoessel pointed out that donor nations spend roughly $1 billion every year keeping Congo on humanitarian life support. In comparison to the cost of aid and the premium importers now pay for Congolese minerals, security sector reform may not look quite so expensive. Still, overarching security-sector reform is a tough case to make. Of late, though, Stoessel has had some reason for optimism. The world’s leader in security sector reform, the United States, has gotten more involved.
America’s current intervention in Congo — if the limited efforts the U.S. has made there can be called that — began with a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in August 2009. Clinton toured a hospital and a refugee camp and met with rape victims. She came away visibly shaken. Congo’s epidemic of rape was “truly one of mankind’s greatest atrocities,” she said. She promised U.S. assistance, starting with an initial grant of $20 million for new health clinics and expanding into a more comprehensive program of training for the Congolese military. “We will be deploying a team comprised of civilian experts, medical personnel and military engineers from the U.S. Africa Command to assess how we can further assist survivors of sexual violence,” Clinton vowed.

“Security-sector development has a number of areas, but the real objective is to help or sustain and support the government of Congo, so they can do things like better protect the civilian population and better provide security,” said Marc Dillard, a spokesman at the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

It took a year, but the troops that Clinton promised finally began deploying in September 2010. Around a hundred U.S. Army National Guard doctors, dentists, medics and administrators, plus a command staff and a small coterie of media handlers, arrived in Kinshasa on a commercial flight. A fleet of hired SUVs whisked them through the sprawling, polluted city to the Grand Hotel, the biggest and priciest in town.

A week into their stay, the hotel’s air conditioning failed, coughing out a spray of long-moldering dust and debris. Several soldiers came down with respiratory problems, including Lt. Col. Todd Johnston, the mission commander, and his top media handler Maj. Junel Jeffrey. Between the hotel’s exorbitant cost and the sometimes uncomfortable conditions, the Americans were beside themselves. Few had ever been to Africa. Fewer had been to Congo. Fewer still spoke French — never mind Lingala, the lingua franca of the country.

But the soldiers had not come to Congo to enjoy Kinshasa. The point of the Americans’ visit was a two-week exercise with nearly 300 of their medical counterparts from the Congolese army. The exercise was code named “Medflag ’10.” “It’s a chance to learn some techniques from the U.S. Army,” Johnston said through his worsening congestion.
As always, the issue of access to minerals was never far off the radar. “The U.S. has determined it wants to be more involved in Africa,” Johnston said.

The ultimate effect, he added, would be “to bring Africa into the mainstream of the world economy.” But for Congo, that integration is predicated on the country possessing an army that does not rape and that can prevent other groups from raping. The American medics call this “professionalism.” The Americans’ job, as trainers, was to “professionalize” the FARDC.

“Professionalization of a force does, in fact, make a difference,” said Maj. Gen. David Hogg, Johnston’s boss.

The first week of Medflag ’10 was mostly classroom instruction and hands-on medical training. In unadorned rooms at an overgrown parade ground once favored by Mobutu, American sergeants and junior officers addressed Congolese medics seated in neat rows, elementary-school style. Every sentence or so, the Americans paused, and let interpreters repeat their words in French or Lingala. It was a halting, tedious way of conducting a class. Sgt. Stuart Hammer, a medic, said he was told to expect delays for interpretation,
so he had planned his teaching schedule accordingly.

The lectures were about nitty-gritty medical matters, mostly: how to evaluate a patient, stop bleeding and properly lift and carry a stretcher. The Americans discovered the Congolese already knew a lot of what the Americans were teaching. The big difference was that the Americans were accustomed to using electronic equipment and vehicles for certain tasks; the Congolese usually made do with manual tools and muscle-power.

Still, the Congolese were “very eager to learn,” says 1st Lt. Coty Sicble, overseeing the lectures from a weedy patch outside the classrooms. In a sense, the free instruction from the Americans was the “carrot,” the reason the Congolese government would invite in a foreign army in the first place. What came next was, from the U.S. government’s point of view, the “stick” — that is, the opportunity to get what it wanted in Congo, which is an army that looks after civilians instead of exploiting or neglecting them.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

With the Americans nudging them along, in the second week of Medflag the Congolese soldiers organized a bare-bones health clinic at a shambling youth center on the outskirts of Kinshasa. Two thousand city residents registered for free dental and medical care courtesy of the U.S. and Congolese armies. There were malaria cases, advanced gum disease and tooth decay and lots of diabetes. Behind a sheet in one corner, an American doctor took an old man’s blood pressure. A Congolese dentist pulled a woman’s rotted teeth as she curled her toes and screamed. American and Congolese pharmacists slung
prescription medicines as fast as they could process the paperwork.

On the clinic’s sidelines, a sniffling Jeffrey was orchestrating her own miniature reform
of the Congolese army’s public affairs apparatus. After welcoming a gaggle of
American and Congolese reporters to the clinic site, Jeffrey spotted a Congolese army
media handler steering a Congolese reporter through a crowd of waiting patients, clearly
trying to keep the reporter from talking to the civilians. Jeffrey grew furious. Marching
across the clinic site, Jeffrey confronted the Congolese officer. “They can talk to anyone
they want to!” she insisted. Wide-eyed, the Congolese officer nodded his assent.

By week’s end, thousands of Congolese were a little better off than they were before. For once, they had the Congolese army to thank. In a country where the army is usually part of the problem, the clinic represented a profound change — one that, multiplied a thousand times, could mean an end to the rape state.

But lasting reform will take more than one medical exercise. Concurrent with Medflag ’10, a U.S. Special Forces team deployed to Kisangani, 500 miles east of Kinshasa, to work with a Congolese infantry battalion. And future exercises are likely. “This is not a one-time thing,” said Col. Gilbert Kabanda, the Congolese army’s top medical officer.
All the same, Stoessel says it would be better if the Americans’ efforts were part of a coordinated, international reform campaign. “What would need happen for army reform are two things, really. First, the government [of Congo] should show a clear willingness and leadership for army reform. And the main donors, on their side, should match that with serious, long-term funding based on a comprehensive plan agreed on with the government. Without those two things, the efforts will be piecemeal and won’t have an effect.”

“We have hope this will happen,” he said, “that the world will wake up to this call.”

New LRA attacks against populated areas of northeastern DRC

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 1 March 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is alarmed by a new upsurge in violence against civilians by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Since January the LRA has intensified its attacks in Orientale province, killing some 35 people, abducting 104 others and displacing more than 17,000 people. Since the start of the year we have had reports of 52 raids.
An additional worrisome development is that the rebels appear to have shifted from preying on people in isolated and remote locations to targeting more populated areas. The LRA’s latest attacks have centred on the towns of Niangara, Dungu, Faradje and Ango, which lie in the Haut and Bas Uele districts.

The latest attack was on the early morning of February 24th in the town of Banangana where 8 persons were killed and 30 abducted. No house in the town was spared. A 14-year-old girl is reported to be still barely alive after being shot in the chest. On February 11th, the LRA launched an attack on Faradje territory, forcing several aid agencies to evacuate staff and leaving residents to fend for themselves. There have also been attacks on vehicles transporting humanitarian assistance. On 21 February, a truck ferrying relief supplies and food for NGO Solidarités was attacked in the vicinity of Garamba National Park.

LRA violence is seriously hampering humanitarian work in the province. According to UN data some 2,000 people have been killed and 2,500 abducted, including 892 children, in attacks against civilians in villages and towns across Orientale province since December 2007.

Those who are abducted are used as porters, forced to work in the fields, or used as sex slaves or new recruits. Attacks are often accompanied by extreme cruelty, including murder, mutilation, or amputation of the lips and ears – apparently aimed at terrorizing people with a view to displacing entire populations. Trauma lasting months or years is common among those who have fled.

In addition to the attacks in DRC the LRA also raided the village of Madabuzuma in the Central Africa Republic on the 9th of February, forcing people from their homes and displacing some into neighbouring DRC. Registration of the resulting CAR refugees is going on in the Kpala Kpala refugee camp in Bondo in Bas Uele district. So far, we have registered 82 new arrivals. The camp already hosts some 800 CAR refugees who fled previous LRA attacks.

LRA attacks are causing one of Africa’s biggest population displacements. Since 2008, some 290,000 people have been uprooted in Orientale province. During the same period 20,000 Congolese have sought refugee in southern Sudan, while 3,500 have fled to the CAR.

DR Congo: medical nun killed by rebels – Independent Catholic News

DR Congo: medical nun killed by rebels on Independent Catholic News

DR Congo: medical nun killed by rebels | Congolese nun, Sister Jeanne Yemgane,St Augustine congregation of Dungu, Missionary News Service, Bishop Richard Domba

A Congolese nun, Sister Jeanne Yemgane, who was a doctor and former superior of the St Augustine congregation of Dungu was shot dead by rebels on Saturday, the Missionary News Service reports.

Bishop Richard Domba, Bishop of the north-eastern Dungu-Doruma said: “After finishing her mandate as superior, Sister Yemgane decided to remain on as a nurse. On Saturday she was travelling in a car with other people, including an eye doctor, when they were attacked by gunmen. She didn’t survive her injuries”.

Witnesses appear to attribute the attack to Ugandan rebels of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army), active for three years in the north-east of DR-Congo.

“Once again innocent people, even religious, have been targeted by gunmen. Despite the presence of the National armed forces (FARDC), the United Nations peacekeeping mission and Ugandan army, the security problem remains serious”, said Bishop Richard.

Source: MISNA

Radio Okapi reports LRA attacks, abductions, population displacements, in Faradje territory

(4 Jan 11) Les rebelles ougandais de l’Armée de résistance du seigneur (LRA) ont fait une incursion dans la nuit du samedi 1er à dimanche 2 janvier dans les villages de Udu et Ombalaga en territoire de Faradje dans le district du Haut Uélé. Ils ont tué deux personnes
, dont un militaire des Forces armées de la RDC (FARDC), et enlevé trois filles mineures, selon la société civile de Faradje et le chef de la cité de Aba.

Les assaillants ont opéré pendant quatre heures et se sont ensuite retirés dans la brousse.

La situation a entraîné le déplacement massif des habitants de Udu et Ombalaga.

Pris de panique, les populations des villages environnants ont également pris la fuite.

Tous ces déplacés ont trouvé refuge à Faradje-centre et dans la localité de Krukpata, d’après la même source.

Christmas Fear in the Heart of Africa

Marcel Stoessel visits the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where people terrorised by the Lord’s Resistance Army live in fear.

A house abandoned during an LRA attack. Photo: Marcel Stoessel/Oxfam
A house abandoned during an LRA attack. Photo: Pierre Peron/Oxfam

Last week I travelled to the geographic centre of Africa, the rainforest and savannah lands of north east Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s an area where the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) roams in small groups, killing, mutilating, abducting, stealing from, and terrorising the local population. It took days to get to Niangara, one of the most remote field bases that Oxfam runs.

Hundreds of thousands of people in this region still can’t return home, including the survivors of the Christmas massacres of 2009, when more than 350 were brutally killed, and more than 250 kidnapped in just four days. On the anniversary of the attack on 14 December, together with the community we honoured the dead with a minute of silence followed by speeches in which the people who can’t return home expressed feeling forgotten by their own government and by the international community.

An Oxfam Well in Niangara. Photo: Marcel Stoessel/Oxfam
Oxfam-constructed well in Niangara. Photo: Pierre Peron/Oxfam.

The next day, we drove north to a town called Nambia. We passed many empty, abandoned villages and an 8km stretch of road dubbed “le couloir de la mort” – the corridor of death. Most people had fled Nambia, but about 5,000 brave people remain. Oxfam has rehabilitated water points in this area, significantly reducing the danger of death, rape or abduction for women, who no longer have to walk miles and miles to fetch water.

An Oxfam meeting in Nambia. Photo: Marcel Stoessel/Oxfam
An Oxfam meeting in Nambia. Photo: Pierre Peron/Oxfam

But people still face the same threat when they venture out to their fields. This is more relevant than ever at this time of the year: as the harvesting season starts, survival for the months ahead depends on safe access to the fields. Our meeting with the community was sad and tense. They feel unprotected, dispensable: “How long will we have to live in fear?” they asked me. “We keep telling our stories, but when will the world do something?” One middle-aged man wondered aloud “if our president even knows Nambia exists,” looking at me intently as if the eye contact would increase his chances for a dignified life.

I promised the community that Oxfam is doing everything it can to bring this unacceptable situation to the attention of the world. Shortly afterwards, I found myself being interviewed over satellite phone by the BBC, Radio France International and Voice of America, and on many Congolese radio and TV stations. On 17 December, the last day of last year’s massacres, I get three minutes of speaking time via video-link to members of the Security Council in New York. Will anyone be listening to the voices of ordinary women and men from Nambia? One thing is sure: the people living in the heart of Africa will be praying to be heard this Christmas.

Two killed, four wounded and many more abducted in fresh LRA attacks

December 22, 2010 (MARIDI) – Four days before Christmas, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), now based in South Sudan’s neighbor, the Central African Republic, are reported to have killed at least two people, injured four and abducted an estimated 50 people in a weekend attack on Zumaro village of, Mboroko locality in Western Equatoria’s Maridi County.

Nineteen aid agencies have called for efforts to prevent mass killings by one of Africa’s most feared rebel militias over the Christmas period.

The aid agencies vigilant of LRA atrocities included: Broederlijk Delen, CAFORD, Christian Aid, Conciliatino Resources, CORDAID, Danish Refugee Council, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Intersos, Norwegian Refugee Council, OXFAM, Pax Christi Flanders, Peace Direct, Refugees International, Resolve, Society for Threatened Peoples, Tearfund, Trocaire, War Child UK, World Vision.

The aid agencies say a concerted effort is needed to stop the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) from committing what have become known as “Christmas massacres”.

On Christmas Day 2008 and over the following three weeks, LRA killed than 800 people in north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and southern Sudan, abducting hundreds more.

In December 2009, the brutal militia killed more than 300 villagers in the DRC in the run-up to Christmas.

According to eyewitnesses living in the area, the rebels have intensified their attacks against civilian targets in the area where they operated before in 2008.

Speaking on the phone to Sudan Tribune, Enosa Sette Aguno the Commissioner of Maridi County said that the “LRA clandestinely attacked Zumaro village at 12:00AM killed two people and wounded another four, and estimated 50 people are believed to have been abducted.”

Sette said that the four wounded civilians, including two women and a small child, were treated at Maridi Hospital.

The commissioner said that eyewitnesses estimated the “LRA forces that attacked last night at about one battalion.”

Commissioner Sette said that the southern army – the SPLA – and a local vigilante group established to protect communities from the LRA, known as the Arrow Boys are pursuing the LRA rebels. He said that the “situation is under control” with the, SPLA and Joint Integrated units of soldiers from Sudan’s southern and northern army have received reinforcements.

The armed forces are attempting to reach another village where night time attacks were reported to see if anyone was hurt or killed.

Blamed for terrorizing northern Uganda for more than two decades the LRA were pushed out of the areas by the Ugandan army in 2005 first into Sudan but they have since spent more time in Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic, after nearly two years of peace negotiations ended in failure.

Nineteen agencies call for action to prevent another Christmas massacre by Africa’s most brutal rebel group » Oxfam News Blog

New report says the Lord’s Resistance Army is now the most deadly militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo
The international community needs to act to prevent another Christmas massacre and the almost daily killing sprees by the most brutal and long-running rebel group in Africa said aid agencies in a new report released today. Massacres meted out by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) against remote communities in Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) over the past year have been among the worst in the LRA’s 20-year bloody history.

New figures show that over the past two years the LRA has become the most deadly militia in the DRC. In the last year alone more than 1,000 people have been killed or abducted in nearly 200 separate attacks in two remote districts of DRC – almost four attacks a week across an area approximately the size of the UK.

On Christmas Eve 2008 and over the following three weeks, 865 women, men and children were savagely beaten to death and hundreds more abducted by the LRA in north-eastern DRC and southern Sudan. Last Christmas, between 14 and 17 December 2009, LRA commanders oversaw the killing of more than 300 people. These attacks have largely gone unnoticed by the outside world.

“It is unbelievable that world leaders continue to tolerate brutal violence against some of the most isolated villages in central Africa and that this has been allowed to continue for more than 20 years,” said Marcel Stoessel, Head of Oxfam in DRC. “This Christmas families in north-eastern Congo will live in fear of yet another massacre, despite the presence of the world’s largest peacekeeping mission.”

The LRA is highly mobile and attacks women as they perform their daily tasks – fetching water or tending to their fields – and children as they return from school. The LRA abducts, mutilates, rapes and kills women, men and children, using extreme violence against the most vulnerable.

A new report, ‘Ghosts of Christmas Past’ launched today by 19 humanitarian and human rights organisations says the safety and welfare of women, men and children across the vast LRA-affected area must finally be given the decisive attention it demands.
“The LRA is mostly comprised of abducted or coerced adults and children who have been forced to commit horrific acts against their community, making it impossible for them to return home,” said Mark Waddington CEO of War Child UK. “Children are forced to kill and rape, and many are used as ‘sex slaves’.

“This must not be allowed to continue. The international community must work harder to implement the recommendations in the report and promote the safe release of LRA abductees and support their reintegration back into their families and daily life, particularly girls, who are often neglected in such processes.”

Previous efforts to apprehend the LRA have failed, the report says. In December 2008 Operation “Lightning Thunder”, a military offensive against the LRA, failed to capture any senior rebel commanders. The offensive only prompted brutal retaliations against communities and pushed the LRA further from their native Uganda across an area 20 times larger than before.

Recent signs of diplomatic commitment from the African Union and United States must provide tangible answers that protect the population from violence and find peaceful solutions, agencies say. That should include focusing on the realities of national armies’ capacity to keep civilians safe from the LRA, one of the major weaknesses in strategies to date.

“As a regional problem the LRA is no one government’s responsibility,” said Stoessel. “The United Nations Security Council has long neglected to put the LRA as a specific agenda item and has failed to respond seriously to atrocities.
“The international community and regional governments must work together so that families can finally tend to their fields and sleep in their homes free from fear.”

‘Ghosts of Christmas Past’ is launched today. It is produced by organisations working in the affected countries or advocacy groups with a long-standing commitment to resolving the LRA threat: Broederlijk Delen, Cafod, Christian Aid, Conciliation Resources, Cordaid, Danish Refugee Council, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Intersos, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam, Pax Christi Flanders, Peace Direct, Refugees International, Resolve, Society For Threatened Peoples, Tearfund, Trocaire, War Child UK, World vision.
Sign a petition to help make families in central Africa safer this Christmas at
Oxfam is currently assisting more than 120,000 people affected by LRA violence in Haut-Uélé, province Orientale, DRC.