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Stop the forgotten conflict in Masisi, Democratic Republic of Congo

Source: Jesuit Refugee Service International - Wed, 14 Nov 2012 12:02 GMT
Author: Danilo Giannese
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Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Masisi (North Kivu), Rome, 14 November 2012 – Since last August, communities living in Masisi district in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been displaced on a daily basis and at least 18 have been murdered, caught between tit-for-tat attacks by opposing rebel groups. Unless the peacekeeping forces (MONUSCO) and the Congolese army urgently intervene to protect the civilian population, more innocent lives will be lost.

Over the last six months, MONUSCO forces have been supporting the Congolese army in putting down the rebellion by the March 23 Movement (M23) in the nearby district of Rutshuru. Focused on responding to the security threat caused by M23 rebels, the Congolese army left several parts of Masisi district unprotected, conceding freedom of movement to rebel groups – some in formal alliances with M23.

During this period, more than 320,000 people have been forcibly displaced in North Kivu. Although most of this is the result of the conflict between government and M23 forces in Rutshuru, many have been displaced by the violence in Masisi.

"This has caused an unjustifiable lack of protection for the population in Masisi district. While it is clearly necessary that civilians attacked by M23 be protected, this should not happen at the cost of innocent lives – mainly women and children – elsewhere in the region. The population feels abandoned by MONUSCO forces which has failed in its mandate", said a JRS staff member in Masisi.

The Jesuit Refugee Service in Masisi has witnessed first-hand the consequences of the alarming escalation of violence between rebel groups from the Hunde and Hutu communities, as well as between other armed groups active in the area. In addition to the immediate consequences of the violence, the attacks leave many groups – women, children, older people, those with disabilities and health problems – in particularly vulnerable circumstances, without assistance from aid agencies and support from other community members.

A climate of fear currently reigns in the Hutu and Hunde communities in Masisi. Increased attention needs to be urgently provided by the international community, one which answers the pleas for security and humanitarian aid and pushes Congolese political, civil and military authorities to guarantee the protection of these populations. Otherwise free reign will continue to be given to militias responsible for the killing of innocent children, women and men.

Recent events

  • Between 27 and 29 September 2012, a number of Hunde villages near Loashi and Shoa districts were burned down by members of Nyatura, a Hutu militia group.
  • On 30 September, Hunde motorcyclist was murdered in Loashi, allegedly by a Hutu militia.
  • On 30 September, despite heavy rains and the presence of a MONUSCO base less than a kilometre away, members of the Hunde community burned several huts in the Kilimani camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs), forcing many residents, mostly Hutus, to seek safety in other camps or with family members. Even though most people in Masisi were aware of the high risk of an attack, MONUSCO made no plans to prevent the violence and protect the IDPs.
  • After a few days of relative calm, following the intervention of the local authorities, the massacres recommenced. On 3 November, four Hunde women and two children were murdered by machete at the hands of the Nyatura militia. The women had been gathering food a few kilometres from Masisi town and were said to have been raped before being killed.
  • On 4 November, members of the Hunde community carried the bodies of the victims to the building of the local Masisi authorities, demanding their community be provided with security.
  • On 11 November, a Hutu man was killed by members of the Hunde militia FDC (Forces de Défense du Congo) in Ngote village. FDC members subsequently burned down several villages around Buhabo, causing further forced displacement. Hutu community members later carried the body to the Masisi town council, demanding their community be protected, as was done a week earlier by the Hunde community.
  • On 12 November, a Hutu armed group responded by burning down several Hunde villages around Masisi town. Thousands of people have reached Masisi town in seeking safety from the violence. In Mashaki village five dead bodies have been found; a woman and six children are still missing. Later that day, several Hutu villages were burned down.
  • Most IDPs in Kilimani have yet to return to the camp for fear of further violence and due to cuts in food delivery since 30 September. They continue to live in extremely precarious conditions without any assistance.

JRS in North Kivu. JRS started to work 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.

Masisi: 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.

In addition to the construction and renovation of secondary schools, JRS teams provide education materials and teacher training in 84 secondary schools.

Special attention is paid to the needs of women. As such, 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.

For further information
Danilo Giannese, Advocacy and Communications Officer, Jesuit Refugee Service, Great Lakes Africa; tel: +243 821 778 696; +257 78991302; email: grandslacs.advocacy@jrs.net; www.jrs.net

James Stapleton, Communications Coordinator, Jesuit Refugee Service (International Office); tel: +39 06 68977468; +39 346 234 3841; email: international.press@jrs.net; www.jrs.net

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