NAIROBI (AlertNet) – The numerous armed groups battling over eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are forcing civilians to fund the conflict by paying ‘taxes’ to get to their fields or go to market, Oxfam said in a report on Tuesday.
The Congolese army has had to deploy many of its soldiers to counter the M23 rebel group, leaving large parts of eastern DRC with no army presence, Oxfam said.
Almost a dozen militia groups have moved in and started extorting goods and money from civilians and pillaging farmers’ crops, said the report ‘Commodities of War: Communities Speak Out on the True Cost of Conflict in Eastern DRC’.
The town of Kashugu in northern Masisi was attacked 12 times between April and July by the Congolese army and rebel groups fighting over control of illegal tax revenues, it said.
“Ruthless militias and government troops are both mercilessly exploiting local communities to help fund their war,” Oxfam’s associate country director, Elodie Martel, said in a statement. “… armed groups plunder money, food and whatever other resources they can find.”
The M23, led by mutinying government soldiers, captured the eastern city of Goma from U.N.-backed government troops on Tuesday, prompting tens of thousands of civilians to flee towards the Rwandan border.
Away from the front line, the situation is little better.
In Irumu in the Ituri region, researchers found that every household has to pay the militia monthly protection taxes, known as “lala salama”, Swahili for ‘sleep peacefully’.
Market women in Irumu told Oxfam they had to give wood and straw to the militia when they arrived at the market. In Uvira, traders said they had to pay government forces at three different checkpoints on their way to market and five further taxes to sell their goods when they got there.
In Masisi, farmers had to pay $1 to the local Mayi Mayi militia to go to their fields. One dollar is a lot of money in eastern DRC, buying up to three kilograms (6.6 lbs) of beans.
In Kalehe, in South Kivu Province, rebels kidnapped people and demanded a ransom of $500 for each of them.
“We cannot easily find this kind of money, following all the pillaging we have already been through,” one man told Oxfam.“We have no other option than to sell our belongings to free them. We sell our land, our house and our livestock.”
The report is based on interviews carried out in June with more than 1,300 people across three eastern provinces of the DRC.
Oxfam called on the government to reform the army and provide the rebels with incentives to lay down their arms.