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Violent clashes among various rebels, as well as fighting between these rebel groups and the Congolese army has been on the rise since last August. Consequently, thousands of women, children and men have been displaced from their homes in Masisi. In addition, a climate of fear and reciprocal mistrust reigns between the two major communities living in the area, the Hundes and the Hutus.
The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) believes that highlighting the forgotten conflict in Masisi and ensuring protection of the local population are urgent priorities for the international community, the Congolese authorities, the UN peacekeeping mission (MONUSCO) and the political actors of the Great Lakes Region.
"We appreciate the ongoing diplomatic efforts to end the violence perpetrated by the rebels who took control of Goma on 20 November causing tens of thousands people to flee. However, equal determination should be used to restore peace and security to populations in Masisi, exhausted from the conflict", said JRS Great Lakes Africa Director, Isaac Kiyaka, SJ.
Night attacks. According to the information collected by JRS teams in Masisi, on the night of 29 November members of the Nyatura, a Hutu militia, attacked Kihuma village, around Buabo, burning down houses and firing gunshots at Hunde villagers. Five people were murdered, including one in a nearby medical centre.
"They arrived at four in the morning and the village looked like the hell. I took my six children and fled into the forest without food or clothes. People ran where they could and I saw children falling in the river", explains 60-year-old Loomo*.
Lives in flight. In less than two weeks, Loomo has fled three times, walking a total distance of approximately 21 kilometres, in order to save the lives of herself and her children.
"We constantly feel threatened. I know we will be forced to flee again because another conflict will certainly erupt. We need our authorities to guarantee security. We cannot continue to live in this way: people are tired and we are losing the desire to live", continues Loomo who is now seeking refuge with her children in a primary school.
Vengeance. During the same day of the attack in Kihuma on 29 November, young Hunde militiamen immediately reacted by killing 11 Hutu people in the surrounding area of Buabo, including five men who supposedly belonged to the Nyatura militia. The day after, twelve more people were killed during an armed incursion in various Hutu villages around Lushebere. Several houses were burned down. and the population fled the village en masse.
Moise*, a 30-year-old Hutu man, lives and works in Masisi town, which is primarily populated by Hunde people. He has described an increased climate of reciprocal fear based on ethnic tensions between the two communities in the past few months.
"When I walk in the city, people call me 'Nyatura, Nyatura' (Hutu militiaman), but I’m not a member of an armed group. I just want to live in peace with the rest of the population. Unfortunately, I feel I'll be forced to flee Masisi forever, if not, they may kill me", explains Moise.
Context. On 14 November, JRS released a press statement documenting the murders of at least 18 people, including four women and two children assassinated by machetes; a massive population displacement; and the destruction of camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).
The humanitarian situation in North Kivu further deteriorated throughout the month as a result of violence by the March 23 Movement (M23), a rebel group supported by the Rwandan and the Ugandan governments according to a recent report of the UN Group of Experts on the DRC, but denied by Kigali and Kampala. The M23 took control of Goma on 20 November causing the displacement of more than 140,000 additional people and the interruption of most humanitarian relief throughout the affected territory.
Following discussions between government leaders of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, the rebel movement agreed to withdraw to 20 kilometres from Goma city, in return for the opening of direct negotiations with the Congolese government.
Recommendations. Amidst escalating violence in Masisi and the great necessity for protection and humanitarian assistance of the displaced population, the Jesuit Refugee Service calls on:
- the international community to put pressure on the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and those of the Great Lakes sub-region to immediately stop the violence of rebel groups terrorising Masisi, with the equal determination used to curtail the M23 rebellion;
- the authorities of the DRC to ensure protection of the civilian population in and around Masisi by reinforcing army presence in the area; to effectively promote peaceful coexistence between the Hunde and the Hutu communities; and to eradicate the root causes of the conflict and the interests of the armed groups;
- the UN Organization Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) based in Masisi to guarantee the protection of civilians from armed attacks conducted by rebel groups;
- the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) to effectively engage in diplomatic efforts to put an end to the violent incursions of the M23, but also the numerous armed rebel groups present in Masisi.
*Not their real name
Danilo Giannese, Advocacy and Communications Officer, Jesuit Refugee Service, Great Lakes Africa; tel: +257 78991302; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.jrs.net
James Stapleton, Communications Coordinator, Jesuit Refugee Service (International Office); email: email@example.com; www.jrs.net
Notes to the editor:
JRS Great Lakes Africa is one of 10 geographic regions of the Jesuit Refugee Service, an international Catholic organisation of the Society of Jesus working in more than 50 countries around the world. The regional office coordinates the delivery of education, housing, psychosocial and recreational services, as well emergency assistance and support to become self-sufficient, to vulnerable refugee and other displaced populations in Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo.
JRS in North Kivu. JRS began working in North Kivu in 2008, in the camps for displaced populations around Goma. After the sudden closure of the camps in September 2009, JRS followed the people to their areas of origin and to places of new displacement. JRS currently works in two areas of North Kivu: Masisi and Mweso districts. Established in 2010, JRS has since expanded its services to five official and other makeshift IDP camps, offering formal and informal education and emergency assistance to both IDPs and local communities.