View our special coverage: 'Conflict in Nord Kivu'
Also read: UN condemns ceasefire violation by rebels
Kanyabayonga is a makeshift camp 180km north of Goma, capital of Nord Kivu and epicenter of the intense fighting that has opposed Tutsi rebel leader Laurent Nkunda’s forces, the national conglolese army and ad hoc Hutu militias, known as the Mai Mai.
At the heart of the conflict zone, FRANCE 24 correspondent Arnaud Zajtman spoke to a group of 50 young members of the Mai Mai militia facing Laurent Nkunda’s rebel army. Some of the fighters are as young as nine years old. There are both girls and boys, some still in their school uniforms.
The children say they’re planning to kill the Tutsi rebels, parroting what their older commanders have told them. The weapons they use were abandoned by retreating soldiers: deadly toys in such small hands.
At the beginning of November, the Mai Mai launched an offensive against Nkunda’s forces. They were quickly pushed back, and Kiwania, where the children come from, is still behind rebel lines. Some of them say the rebels then targeted their parents as revenge. Orphaned, homeless, the children have no option but to join militia camps.
When alone, the children speak freely. With the arrival of their commander, a visibly brutal militiaman, the atmosphere changes. No more interviews: the leader threatens to take FRANCE 24’s crew hostage, and orders them to leave.
The regular army is well aware of these underage militias, but do nothing to stop the children from fighting. They share the same enemy, after all.