Since June 2009, when a Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) unit attacked his village, Gaston Mbali, 30, an agricultural trainer, has lived in a rudimentary camp for displaced people in Niangara, an isolated town in the Haut Uele District of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Orientale Province.
In the first few months of 2010 alone, the LRA murdered several hundred people in DRC, prompting some 318,000 to flee their homes and abandon their fields for the uncertain sanctuary of provincial towns such as Niangara.
“It was a Tuesday, last June. When we heard whistles, we knew to try to escape. That is how they communicate. Around 15 of them came into the village. They looked about 25 or 30 years old and wore military uniforms and dreadlocks.
“They started killing people, both with guns and machetes. They caught my cousin Mapakasse and tied him up then beat him to death. I was hiding in a field and saw them kill three people in all - my cousin, a pastor and a woman.
“They burnt many houses and stole the livestock. They seemed to be drunk or drugged.
“Eight of us travelled together here, to Niangara. We had no time to collect anything from our houses. We walked for three days through the forest; it was very tiring and we had nothing to eat.
“The whole village, around 1,000 people, made their way here. But 55 people in all were missing, either killed or captured.”
“Life here is very difficult. We have nothing to eat, other than the few things we can grow, such as beans and peanuts.
“With the LRA still there, how can we go back to the village? We know they are still there because sometimes people try to return to get crops from their fields and they don’t come back.
“We will stay here until the LRA leave our area. It is not time to go yet.”
“I feel safe in Niangara because the army and MONUC [UN Mission in DRC] are here. But the LRA are only one kilometre away.
“There are no means of communication [no mobile phone network]. If there is an attack, we need to be able to phone to alert people.
“These huts don’t keep out the rain; the plastic sheeting we were given barely lasted one month.
“There is no work here. In Nawe [his home village], we worked in the fields and sold some of what we grew and also fish. Now we are afraid to go through the forest; you cannot travel even one kilometre from here. The LRA stay in the forest. On Sunday [2 May], during the day three of them were captured here in town. They were in civilian clothes but they admitted they were LRA.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions