Hutu Militia Rampages Across North Kivu
A Hutu militia group is terrorising civilians in eastern Congo, apparently in retaliation for the recent military campaign intended to drive them back to their native Rwanda.
While some of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, FDLR, are being repatriated following a joint offensive earlier this year by the Congolese and Rwandan military, many have remained behind. The latter now appear to have turned on the local population in North Kivu province.
Justine Kanyere watched her two-year-old daughter Kahuo burn to death after FDLR fighters set fire to their home in the village of Luofu in the southern Lubero territory.
“The interahamwe [FDLR] surrounded our house and forced us out,” she told IWPR. “I was so scared that I forgot to take Kahuo with me since I was already carrying her one-year-old brother against my chest and holding the three-year-old by the hand.
“When my husband asked about Kahuo, we realised she was burning inside the house. We could only witness powerlessly her incineration before collecting the remains of her unrecognisable body for the funeral.”
IWPR has learned that the attacks in Luofu have been repeated around North Kivu. Community leaders and victims say the FDLR is apparently retaliating against the attacks by the United Nations Mission in Congo, MONUC, and the Congolese and Rwandan armies.
MONUC and the Congolese army are currently involved in a joint military operation against the FDLR. A similar campaign involving Rwandan and Congolese forces ended in mid-February.
Seven people, including five young children, died in Luofu and neighbouring Kasiki during the attack on the night of April 17. Human Rights Watch says seven civilians were injured and more than 300 houses burned to the ground. Thousands of displaced people escaping recent violence in the area had swelled the local population.
Luofu policeman Maelezo Bayonga could do nothing as his sons aged three, four and were six burned to death. “I saw the interahamwe setting my house on fire while my children were still inside,” he said. “They ordered me not to move or they would shoot at me and my wife.”
MONUC had a temporary operating base in Luofu but that was removed on April 12, according to Human Rights Watch. By the time UN soldiers arrived the FDLR were gone.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, is also reporting attacks on humanitarian relief convoys, NGOs and commercial traffic. It says with relief workers unable to work effectively because of the insecurity, the humanitarian situation is grim and thousands of internally displaced people are running out of food and medicine.
Human Rights Watch believes the attacks were a deliberate reprisal against the local population, which the FDLR blamed for giving away their position to the joint Rwandan-Congolese forces in January.
Local politicians told IWPR that the FDLR have since been attacking all around the province.
Muhindo Nzangi Bitondo, a member of the North Kivu provincial assembly, said that in the Lubero region, eight people died in Mbughavinywa and the village was looted. He said nine people died and 80 houses were burned during fighting between the army and the rebels in nearby Miriki.
“The security situation is precarious since the end of joint military operations in February. Since then, we have been observing repetitive attacks of FDLR against civilians in the villages of Lubero territory,” he said.
“Our voters are harassing us because of the attacks of the FDLR. They say they voted because they were expecting peace, but this is not the case.”
The neighbouring Walikale region has also been hard hit by the FDLR.
Manace Bwira Semusimiwa, a member of the provincial parliament from Walikale, said the region is in a state of turmoil with villages burned, civilians killed and the meagre infrastructure severely damaged. “The FDLR destroyed two bridges. Today, it is difficult for people coming from Goma to reach the town of Pinga, a hundred kilometres west of Goma,” he said.
Since the Rwandan army left North Kivu last February, the military campaign against the FDLR has been carried out largely by a supposedly integrated Congolese force. This comprises the army, former rebels of Laurent Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the Congolese People, CNDP, and Mai Mai groups, including PARECO.
Until recently, all were bitter enemies and local politicians say they are now ill-equipped and ill-prepared to work together against the FDLR. Human Rights Watch says the army put up little resistance during the Luofu and Kasiki attacks and eventually fled with local residents.
“The integration of belligerents was quickly done and did not offer enough time to build confidence among them,” said Jean Baptiste Shebishimbo Rubunga, a member of the provincial parliament from Masisi.
“They have freshly come out of a war and are looking down at each other. There is no respect of the commanders, and the troops are not speaking the same language. I don’t think such a climate can enable our troops to face the FDLR who are well structured and organised.”
Many of the soldiers are not being paid, adding to their lack of motivation, says a local civil society activist.
“Congolese soldiers who are fighting the FDLR have no food, no water and obviously no money. How do you want them to fight the FDLR who have cultivated and produced their own food?” said Thomas d’Aquin Muiti Moustapha.
Bwira Semusimiwa says some of the soldiers in the mineral rich Walikale, spotting an economic opportunity, have even deserted and plundered local cassiterite mines. Others have attacked the local population for food.
General Babacar Gaye, the UN military commander in Congo, told IWPR that MONUC would protect civilians from anyone trying to cause them harm.
“We have got the mandate from Security Counsel to react against whoever menaces the security of people,” he said. “If we meet governmental soldiers violating people or looting and we arrest them, I am sure the [Congolese army] and all the Congolese people will be right with us.”
However, Bwira Semusimiwa believes that Kinshasa should be doing more.
“There is no peace in North Kivu. We are calling on the president of the republic whose mandate is to guarantee security to people and properties, to be strongly engaged in the restoration of peace in this province,” he said.
Taylor Toeka Kakala and Jacques Kahorha are IWPR contributors in Congo.