Caritas Internationalis has sent aid to 10,000 families in the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where on Christmas Day, Ugandan rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) carried out massacres on the local population.
"The rebels have been terrorizing the people of northern Congo for several months. However, the wave of violence during the holiday season has left over 400 victims from a series of massacres carried out by the LRA rebels on Christmas Day and the days that followed. Many people were forced to abandon their homes because of the attacks," a statement from Caritas Internationalis, sent to Agenzia Fides, said.
Caritas Congo's spokesman Guy-Marin Kamandji, who is in the area, said: "We are shocked by survivor's accounts. In spite of the presence of soldiers in some towns, many people fear new episodes of violence. The inhabitants of the villages attacked have fled empty-handed and Caritas is trying to provide for those who were forced to flee on Christmas Day and the days following."
On 9 January, they began non-food aid for 5,000 families in Doruma, Faradje, Dungu and Isiro. People are receiving clothes, eating utensils, water containers and a tarpaulin for shelter. A further 5,000 families will be helped in subsequent distributions.
Up to 150,000 people are thought have left their homes to seek safety following violence which has seen rebels burning villages, hacking people to death and kidnapping children and forcing them to become soldiers. Following his recitation of the Angelus on the Feast of the Epiphany, Benedict XVI mentioned the situation "of dozens of children who have been kidnapped by armed bands in the eastern province of the Democratic Republic of Congo."
In October, Caritas launched an alert as to the devastating effects of the Ugandan guerrillas in the northern part of Congo. The aid organization immediately began a campaign to collect funds for emergency aid. In the Christmas attacks in Faradje, the parish church, hospital, businesses, and several houses were all sacked. Among the victims were the director of the hospital and his daughter.
According to the Bishops' Conference of Congo, in 2005 the LRA rebels entered the area of Dungu, in the towns on the border with Uganda and Sudan, in a peaceful manner, without attacking the local population. In 2007, they installed a series of bases on the Congolese side of the border with South Sudan. Since September 2008, the Ugandan guerrillas have attacked the towns in the area, forcing an increasing number of people to continue fleeing their homes. Some people have been forced to flee 25 km, others 45, and still others 60, 110, and even 210 km in search of refuge. The recent joint attack carried out by Ugandan, Congolese, and South Sudan forces on LRA barracks in the Garamba Forest in Congo (see Fides 15/12/2008) was not successful in stopping the rebels and, on the contrary, they launched an attack on Congolese civilians.
The crisis in northern Congo, which has seen appalling brutalities inflicted on the civil population, has been largely over-shadowed by the humanitarian crisis in the east of the country (in North Kivu) where up to two million people have fled violence between other rebel groups and the armed forces.