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Masisi, 7 February 2013 – The Jesuit Refugee Service welcomes the peace agreement signed on 5 February 2013 by different armed groups to stop interethnic violence and bring peace in Masisi, in the mineral-rich North Kivu province. The agreement seeks to bring an end to inter-ethnic violence which has led to the death of 310 people since April 2012, the displacement of tens of thousands of others, and the destruction of villages and camps for displaced persons.
"This is an historic event in Masisi. Just in front of our house, hundreds of armed men from several armed groups and ethnicities are gathered to accompany their leaders seeking a solution to the war. It was the first time that these leaders showed themselves in public together. Until a few weeks ago armed groups were fighting each other. The population welcomed the initiative with enthusiasm and participation and we hope that from this moment on, no more people will suffer from war and displacement in Masisi", said Danilo Giannese, JRS Great Lakes Africa Advocacy and Communications Officer.
With the signature of the peace agreement, rebels announced an end to conflict and division between the Hunde and Hutu populations in the Masisi area. It is time, they continued, to live in peace and put the climate of fear, which reigned in their communities during the conflict, behind them.
The meeting was attended by rebel leaders from APCLS (Alliance des Patriotes pour un Congo Libre et Souverain), a Mai Mai militia group linked to the Hunde community; Nyatura, a Hutu rebel group; FDC-Guide, a Hunde militia group; and Raia Mutomboki, another local armed militia.
The words of the rebels. Among applause and demonstrations of joy of local people, the rebel leaders announced their new alliance and a new era of peace.
"We ask the population to forget the mistakes of the past. There is no longer Nyatura and APCLS, no longer Hutus and Hundes. From this moment on we're all part of the same family", said General Janvier Buingo Karairi, leader of APCLS.
Speaking on behalf of the Hutu community, police chief from nearby Lushebere, Nyunga Munyamariba, underlined his community's commitment to peace.
"Today is the end of the tribalism in Masisi. We want to bring peace to the area and we have to love each other as brothers and sisters".
Reactions of the population. Even though it was a market day in Masisi, local people gathered en masse around the parish centre, where meeting was held. Interest was so great that from the early hours of the morning, the area surrounding the parish centre was jam packed. Women, children and armed men, including a number of child soldiers, shared the same place.
"We're very happy to see that the rebel groups have finally decided to abandon their arms. They have understood that force is not the way to bring about peace", said Julien*, a Masisi inhabitant.
"What happened today is of historic importance for all of us and especially for the elderly, sick and children who aren't able to flee when fighting erupts. I truly hope that from today on the local population of Masisi can contribute to the development of communities of peace and solidarity", the man continued.
However, part of the population still has doubts on the peace process.
"I fear it's only a political game. This area continues to be full of uncontrolled arms and until people feel totally safe they'll not go back to their villages", said Pierre*, a displaced man living in a camp around Masisi town.
To learn more about the consequences of the interethnic conflict in Masisi, read the two JRS press statements released during the crisis, published on 14 November and 5 December 2012.
JRS in eastern Congo. An international catholic organisation operating in more than 50 countries worldwide, JRS started working in North Kivu in 2008, in the camps for displaced populations around Goma. JRS currently works in two areas of North Kivu: Masisi and Mweso districts.
In 2010, JRS has since expanded its services to five official and other makeshift IDP camps, offering formal and informal education and emergency assistance. In addition to the construction and renovation of secondary schools, JRS teams provide education materials and teacher training in 84 secondary schools.
Moreover, literacy courses and skills training are provided for women, many of whom are victims of sexual violence. The third component of the project is to provide one-to-one assistance to older people and persons with disabilities. Where necessary, staff refer these individuals to other agencies. More recently, with the establishment of five unofficial camps, JRS has begun providing food and plastic sheeting in three of the camps where people are living in extreme poverty.
At the end of the 2012, JRS further established an education project around Goma, to offer educational services to the children who have been displaced after the take of the North Kivu capital by the rebels of the Movement of 23 March (M23) last November.
For further information
Danilo Giannese, Advocacy and Communications Officer, Jesuit Refugee Service, Great Lakes Africa; tel.: +243 821 778 696; +257 78991302; email: email@example.com; www.jrs.net
James Stapleton, Communications Coordinator, Jesuit Refugee Service (International Office); tel.: +39 06 68977468; +39 346 234 3841; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.jrs.net
* These names have been changed to protect the identity of the person involved.