DR Congo

Congo violence cuts medical care for 100,000 people

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By David Lewis

KINSHASA, Aug 2 (Reuters) - More than 100,000 people have been deprived of medical care after kidnappings of staff working for a medical charity in Congo's Ituri district forced it to scale back operations, the organisation said on Tuesday.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) (Doctors Without Borders) made the announcement while issuing a report highlighting the level of violence against civilians in the area, where more than 60,000 people have been killed in fighting since 1999.

"The closing of MSF projects outside of Bunia is a direct consequence of the abduction of the two MSF members on June 2nd, 2005," the aid agency said in a statement, referring to the main town in the northeastern Ituri region.

"The release of the two MSF (staff) ten days later, is not considered by the organization as sufficient guarantee for the resumption of its activities. More than 100,000 displaced people were benefiting from this assistance," it added.

MSF's said in its report the assistance was cut on July 22.

The report, "Nothing New in Ituri: The Violence Continues", MSF documents the murders, torture, rape and kidnappings that plague Ituri despite the presence of nearly 5,000 U.N. peacekeepers and efforts by Democratic Republic Congo's transitional government to impose its authority there.

Much of the violence is fuelled by competition for mineral resources or customs revenues, often along ethnic lines.

HOSPITAL IN BUNIA

Although it is now shutting down operations in camps for people who fled attacks by gunmen, MSF said it will continue to run a 300-bed hospital in Bunia for emergency cases.

More than 90 percent of the 795 families interviewed by MSF for the report said they had had at least one member kidnapped during attacks on their villages.

The men were taken to be used as porters for loot and weapons while women provide the militia with labourers, cooks and sex slaves, the report said.

Rape is common in Ituri, where MSF has treated more than 3,500 victims of sexual violence against women and girls between the ages of 8 months and 80 years, mostly in attacks involving weapons like rifles and machetes.

"After looting and burning the huts in that village, the armed men gathered up all the girls and took them to be their wives far away into the forest," a 14-year-old girl told MSF.

Long accused of not doing enough to protect civilians, the United Nations stepped up operations against Ituri's militias in February and says it has disarmed 15,000 fighters, although MSF says more needs to be done.

"Today the reality is plain: populations living outside Bunia have been left to fend for themselves and given over to the limitless violence of armed groups," MSF said.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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