Continued [see also: Coming home to Dongo (part one)]
The following day I went out with a MAG Community Liaison (CL) team to work with communities that had previously returned. People have been coming back slowly over the last three months or so. Some of them spontaneously, but most through UNHCR- organised repatriation.
Just up the road from Dongo in Bolomo village I met a woman called Josephine Litande Mokela. She fled the village with her family when people came to the village and started killing people and burning houses. “As we ran to the river my pregnant daughter began labour. She gave birth as we hid in the forest and died from a haemorrhage. We managed to cross the river and an aid agency helped us and the baby survived.” Three months ago they decided to come home. There had been a storm the night before and the currents were strong. Tragically her husband and grandchild drowned.
Josephine and her three children were staying with her brother’s family. Her brother had started to build a house for her nearby but during the process found a mortar bomb. They had to stop the construction and reported the find to the CL team that visited the community a week later. This was one of more than 30 dangerous area reports handed over to the technical team.
On the third day of our visit the technical team arrived from Gemina, a 12-hour drive away. The next day we accompanied them as they dealt with the highest priorities. First up was a 250lb aircraft bomb in central Dongo. The community was terrified the bomb would be set off as villagers burnt off vegetation to use the land for housing and agriculture. They were worried that the fire could spread to where the bomb was. They were also worried that their children might tamper with it. There were a number of houses about 100 metres away and the town’s main primary school about 500 metres away.
The team’s technical advisor Neil Philips examined the bomb and determined that due to the type of fuse it could not be moved and would have to be blown in situ. The authorities were warned of the upcoming explosion, a message was broadcast on the local radio and the area around the bomb was evacuated including the nearby school. The whole process took about two hours and when the team were confident that no one was left in the area the bomb was destroyed in a controlled demolition. The huge blast was heard throughout the town.
Afterwards I spoke to the school’s headmaster. He said: “MAG had done a great job. The whole community was afraid and now the children will be safer and people can build their houses.”
We then headed to the UNHCR transit centre where the CL team had reported a suspect item in the compound of the centre. A small area was marked off with warning tape, only five metres from one of the main buildings. The team searched the area with a metal detector and found a 120mm mortar bomb just below the surface. The fuse had been knocked off when it had hit the ground and failed to detonate so it was possible to move it for later destruction. The head of regional UNHCR operations came to see the process and was astonished at what had been found. He said that trucks had driven over the area a number of times and clearly demonstrated the need for MAG’s assistance.
More on MAG’s work in the Democratic Republic of Congo: MAG DRC
More blog posts: MAG Blog