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DRC: "People fled in all directions", says aid worker
GOMA, DR CONGO, 5 November 2008--The security situation in the
eastern Democratic Republic of Congo remains precarious and aid
groups do not yet know what effect the most recent violence will
have on the latest cease fire or humanitarian situation.
While some non-governmental organisations, including ACT
members, have been able distribute some small amounts of aid, no
one can provide any consistent assistance to those between Kibati
and Rutshuru, or identify where the nearly 50,000 former
inhabitants of the destroyed internally displaced persons (IDP)
camps have gone.
ACT members in eastern DRC continue to work together to respond
in the face of very difficult security and operational
circumstances. An ACT aid worker shared the following first-hand
report from an initial assessment mission:
The road to the rebel-held zone of Rutshuru was surprisingly
smooth -- not a single check point, very few soldiers on the
road, roadside commerce picking up little by little. Moreover, it
was probably the closest to a paved road I had ever seen in DRC.
However, the signs of last week’s fighting were visible in many
ways. Although many people had begun their way home from Kibati
where they had spent a week without shelter and food, a colorful
crowd of thousands of IDPs were still queuing up to receive a few
protein biscuits and some material assistance from the aid
agencies that were gradually resuming their aid operations after
the area was declared somewhat secure.
Small groups of families were cautiously making their way home
by foot, with their few belongings on their heads, babies on
their backs and small children courageously keeping up the pace
of return. Arriving at the entry point to Kibumba, the signs of
the most intense combat of the year were evident: piles of empty
ammunition boxes and shells, torn off shirts and jackets of
soldiers with blood stains, and a massive telecom antenna that
had collapsed to the ground in the cross fire.
As we arrived in Rutshuru town, where we were supposed to stay
overnight, we began hearing shooting in the neighboring town of
Kiwanja. First it was just sporadic machine gun fire, but very
soon it turned into an exchange of heavy artillery fire. The
echoes of the fighting made it clear that there was no way for us
to get to Kiwanja - where we had expected to meet with local
church-based organisations that could have given us some
indication about where all the people had fled from the IDP camps
a few days ago.
We had no choice but to return to Goma.
On the way back, we decided to stop in a village a few
kilometers south from Rutshuru town, and was also badly affected
by last week’s fighting. Heavy fighting lasted for three days,
during which the entire population of the village fled their
homes to other towns, just to return in a few days and find their
property looted and destroyed.
We had the chance to speak with the heads of two local
ACT-supported organisations to get information on the situation
after their own families returned home a few days ago.
"Some displaced families were staying here in our compound, but
they were forcibly driven away. Then they told us that we too
must leave. They chased us away saying they would come here and
fight bitterly," said Elisabeth*, who runs one of the local
She and her family fled to a neighboring village along with the
IDPs that they had been accommodating in their home. As soon as
the echo of bombs and gunfire silenced, they returned to see what
was left of their property. Almost 40 houses were completely
destroyed and entire families inside those houses were dead.
Another 170 houses were badly damaged by bullets and grenade
Elisabeth’s house was fortunately still standing, but the
office of her organisation was looted. "They slept right here in
this space, and here in the office and the warehouse they just
took everything they could: sewing machines, the computer -
everything. And the rest of the things are just broken and thrown
all over," she said shaking her head while taking us to a tour of
the ravaged offices.
"Look, they even slaughtered and ate our animals! Not one goat,
not one chicken to be found," she said pointing at the empty shed
where they used to have a small livestock breeding project for
the benefit of vulnerable women.
We asked if they had any idea where all of the IDPs that had
been expelled from the nearby camps had gone. Elisabeth sighed
heavily. "Regardless to all we have been through here... we are
lucky to be back in our homes, even the water supply is still
working. Those from the camps… they were dispersed to all
directions. Most of them rather hide somewhere because they are
Elisabeth told that some of the IDPs had no choice but to try
and cross the Virunga National Park area to go towards the town
of Kanyabayonga in the northwest. The areas to both north and
south were battle fronts, and some were not able to get across to
the eastern side of the village as fighting had already begun.
"Many of them died on the way - so many. You know there’s
nothing to be found in the park. No water, no food. The weakest
just died out of thirst and exhaustion. Especially children,
pregnant women, old and ill people… The quantity of miscarriages…
and the amount of cases of sexual violence, I don’t even dare
By the time we finished our interview, Elisabeth was already
busy thinking what measures she could take to start helping
others, while the sound of the machine guns echoing from
neighboring Rutshuru and Kiwanja only seemgged to be getting