Congo: aid workers warn of catastrophe

 Congo: aid workers warn of catastrophe

Missionaries and aid agencies working in northern DR Congo have warned that the humanitarian situation in North Kivu is one of "catastrophic proportions."

Fr Sylvestre, Director of the Radio Maria 'Queen of Peace' in Bukavu, capital of South Kivu, said: "We are 200 kilometres from Goma, the capital of North Kivu, which is under seige by Nkunda and his rebels, however dramatic testimonies reach us, of the violence being committed against civilians. In particular we have heard the report of the massacre of some twenty civilians in the small town of Kiwanja, by Nkunda's men, who were after a local militia that had tried to stop them. This militia is made up of young men, some extremely young, with a true political motive and a desire to defend their homes from the rebel attacks."

Under the group called the "Mai-Mai" are several armed militias, many of whom support the central government in Kinshasa and are carrying out activity in eastern Congo. These are the groups who are now trying to fight Nkunda, as the national army has proven itself inefficient and corrupt.
The massacre in Kiwanja has been denounced in a statement issued by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), who say that 20 civilians, including a Congolese journalist, were "deliberately killed" in a fight between rebels of Nkunda and pro-government Mai-Mai militias. The HRW has criticized the MONUC (the UN Operation in Congo), saying that they "simply unable to protect civilians who are being deliberately attacked."

Testimonies confirming the dramatic situation in North Kivu have also reached Fides from the Caritas team in Goma. "A Caritas team in Goma has informed us that there have been 39 cases of rape in one day, ten of them in Mugunga" a statement sent to Agenzia Fides said. "Many of the victims prefer to suffer in silence and prefer not to speak or seek help for fear of being rejected by their own husbands."

While the conditions of security in eastern Congo continue to worsen, many women run the risk of being attacked, especially when they go into the forest in search of firewood, which they need in order to cook.

Caritas has begun the distribution of food rations in eastern Congo to 64,000 people who have fled their homes following the recent episodes of violence.

"The situation is disastrous," said Alexander Bühler, of Caritas Germany. "We cannot tell exactly how many people have left their homes because of the violence, but it is surely more than a million."

Caritas is distributing 10-day food rations, provided by the UN World Food Program, in four camps to the west of Goma. The rations include corn flour, peas, vegetable oil, and salt.

The situation, however, remains desperate for many people living in and around Goma. The camps are overpopulated and there are already some cases of cholera.

"It is terrible. No one has enough medicine, 800 people share the same faucet and hygiene is practically non-existent," says Bühler after his visit to the refugee camps.

Source: Fides

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