At least 150 people have been killed in recent attacks by Rwandan Hutu fighters in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, according to local and humanitarian sources.
The UN peacekeeping mission in the country (MONUC), meanwhile, rejected Oxfam’s claim that military action against the Forces démocratiques pour la liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) militias had led to a “spiral of violence against civilians” that would only worsen once the operation entered a new, MONUC-backed phase.
Speaking without reference to the imminent operation or the Oxfam warning, Nestor Yombo, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said: "FDLR attacks against the civilian population are continuing and there is no reason to think that they will stop.”
Yombo said a 10 May attack on the village of Ekingi, 80km northwest of the main South Kivu town of Bukavu, left 90 people dead, among them 60 civilians. More people have been killed in other attacks elsewhere.
The provincial assembly in North Kivu on 13 May discussed an FDLR attack in the village of Walowa, in the territory of Walikale. "The FDLR came, they set the village on fire and killed 62 people, they pillaged ... raped ... they besieged the village and were firing in all directions...," Bwira Shemusimiwa, North Kivu provincial deputy, said.
The attacks have led to continued displacement, with most of the residents having being displaced previously in the conflict that has rocked the region.
OCHA’s Yombo said the FDLR had threatened to kill residents of a village near Lemera if the army pursued them. "The population is traumatised and ... cannot go to the fields or flee the area," he said.
On 13 May, Oxfam said an operation earlier this year by the army against the FDLR in North Kivu had “by any yardstick been a humanitarian disaster … forcing 250,000 to flee their homes and causing untold death and suffering that continues to this day.
“The UN force’s top priority in Congo must be to protect the lives of innocent civilians. The UN needs to be aware of the full implications of continuing to support military action in the present circumstances,” the agency said.
MONUC’s military spokesman, Lt Col Jean-Paul Dietrich, questioned this causal link. “We don’t share Oxfam’s view, because these FDLR attacks do not directly result from joint army-MONUC actions, they are a reaction against the army’s deployment” in certain villages.
“We are doing everything we possibly can to protect the population,” he said, stressing that during the planning of the joint operation against FDLR, code-named Kimia 2, respect for humanitarian law had been a priority.
“It has to be admitted that neither the army nor MONUC can be everywhere. There are simply not enough of us to be in every village,” he added. “The operations have led to the arrest of more than 100 FDLR fighters and thousands of others have voluntarily surrendered with their dependants.”
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