Government, rebel atrocities uprooting civilians in eastern DR Congo – UN

22 May 2009
National army soldiers are among those attacking civilians in the eastern part of the DRC (file photo)

Growing reports of atrocities committed against civilians – by both Government troops and rebel groups – in the war-torn east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continue to drive people from their homes, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) said today.

Growing reports of atrocities committed against civilians – by both Government troops and rebel groups – in the war-torn east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continue to drive people from their homes, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) said today.

Harassment, human rights abuses, rape and intimidation against civilians have been mainly blamed on the ethnic Hutu rebel group known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwandan (FDLR), but also increasingly on Congolese armed forces, known as FARDC, Andrew Purvis, UNHCR spokesperson, said today.

Civilians live in constant fear of threats by armed men, who pillage, rape, burn houses and confiscate supplies and food, with robberies and forced labour becoming increasingly common in the region, the agency said.

“We urgently appeal to the Government of the DRC, with the support of the international community, to provide protection to the civilian population and to end the atmosphere of impunity surrounding crimes committed by members of the FARDC, the national police and by armed rebels such as the FDLR,” Mr. Purvis said.

Two weeks ago, attacks alleged to have been carried out by the FDLR in two villages in North and South Kivu provinces killed dozens of people, with 700 houses being burned to the ground.

The renewed violence has caused panic among civilians, driving many from their homes, Mr. Purvis said.

Since January, FDLR attacks in the war-torn provinces have forced nearly 400,000 to leave their homes and take refuge in forests and other areas, according to UNHCR.

“Tensions have been high in South Kivu, the scene of increased military activity by the FARDC against the FDLR aimed at neutralizing the Rwandan Hutu rebels,” the UNHCR spokesperson said.

An ongoing military offensive against the FDLR – operating in eastern DRC since the end of the Rwandan genocide which wiped out around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994 – in North Kivu, meanwhile, has driven 30,000 people from their homes, he added.

Earlier this week, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) urged greater protection for civilians in the South Kivu, which has witnessed a surge in sexual violence since the beginning of this year.

Some 463 women were raped in the first quarter of 2009, more than half of the total number of violations registered for the whole of last year, OCHA said, noting that most of the sexual violence is committed by soldiers and members of the various armed militia.

Since March, an estimated 120,000 people have been forced from their homes in South Kivu as a result of violent attacks by FDLR militias and clashes pitting the national army against the Hutu group.

 

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