In the latest clash in the conflict that has bled the DRC since the 1994 Rwanda genocide, rebels from the army of general Laurent Nkunda, Congres National pour la Defense du Peuple (CNDP) have seized new territory in North Kivu province. Their campaign of killing, raping and pillaging has sent a new wave of terrified refugees into Goma, North Kivu's provincial capital. Reports indicate that retreating government forces also committed several acts of atrocities in and outside of Goma. The border town, long a haven for internally-displaced victims of the war, is swollen to its limits already with refugees from this fall's encroaching violence. The displaced in Goma and North Kivu now number around a million, trapped by advancing CNDP forces to the west, the Rwandan border to the east and Lake Kivu to the south.
There is no room to absorb the newest refugees, who are suffering the winter rains in leaking, makeshift tents or huddled together with hundreds in churches or community centers, sharing strained waste facilities and desperately waiting for food or water. Evidence of severe malnourishment is obvious in the swollen bellies of feverish children. Some families have been pushed to desperation by this week without food, and have decided to return home despite rumors that returning refugees have been murdered on the road. Over the weekend, a battle in Rutshuru left hundreds killed and wounded, causing mass panic in Goma.
AJWS grantees in the region are enveloped by the exploding violence, which the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) has failed to stop despite the presence of its largest peacekeeping force of 17,000 troops and a mandate to use force to protect civilians and improve security. MONUC is under-funded and no country has taken the lead in furthering the peace process.
An AJWS partner in the region reports:
What's currently going on in Rutshuru, a city under the control of the CNDP is horrible. No human being can stand the sight of the scenes that are unfolding, MONUC announced that more than 150 people were killed on Friday, but the President of the Provincial Assembly of North Kivu listed the figure at 218 in a press release. Our center was not spared and was looted. All our staff and my family have ran away, I don't know where they are hiding or are disappeared. You will know as soon as we have a proof of life or hear from their whereabouts. Can AJWS plan a large scale humanitarian intervention to save those lives that can still be saved? The populations that are still in the cities are around MONUC's headquarters and have no assistance. The situation is disastrous. We have to act soon; it's urgent.
Another AJWS grantee is struggling to house and feed refugees in South Kivu with dwindling resources. Like other community-based organizations, its walls are bursting with desperate families. The organization tells us: "the food crisis is hitting hard. We are getting by on one meal a day, except for the children, who are eating more."
AJWS is doing its best to send emergency aid to its partners through several grants that will facilitate distribution of aid in the Goma area and provide protection to at risks human rights defenders. AJWS has joined the international community in calling for an end to this outrage, signing and helping to circulate a global call for action issued by HEAL Africa.
Joseph Ciza, a representative of that organization, who is working to help refugees in and around Goma wrote:
I went out yesterday with the emergency team to see the people in Buganga camp. These miserable and desperate people have been on the run since September and October, when the clashes started between FARDC and CNDP in the west... with the [violence] last week, they were once again looted. Soldiers took their plastic sheeting for their own camps, leaving the civilian families shivering in the rain. We saw 1,550 families (x 6 for the number of people) in a river valley... drinking untreated river water, the same river where people wash, and cows and goats drink. There are no latrines; the people have no food. I talked to the medical officer of Kirotshe zone. Yesterday, he had 18 confirmed cases of cholera, and we fear many more... Today, we are planning to take out water purification tablets, plastic sheeting and 20 litre jerry cans... That's a small advantage for HEAL Africa of being a local NGO-we do not have to stop at borders! We can go where the need is.