The number of rapes, killings and burnings of entire villages has exploded in the Democratic Republic of Congo as armed groups take advantage of a period of limbo before an expected deployment of government troops against rebels.
There has been a huge increase in rapes and killings in eastern DR Congo by armed groups – including Congolese government troops – since Kinshasa announced imminent operations against rebels, a UN spokesperson said.
Elisabeth Byrs, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told FRANCE 24 in a telephone interview that there had been a "dramatic" resurgence in rapes and attacks in Sud-Kivu province, with civilians burned alive in their homes, and added that both government and rebel groups were responsible.
Sud-Kivu and particularly Nord-Kivu provinces, on the country's eastern border, remain volatile after five years of a regional war fought across the country (1998-2003), followed by a civil war in the east.
Apart from internal conflict, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced in the east and northeast of the DR Congo by the activities of rebels from neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda.
“Any man in a military uniform in the area is a threat to the safety of these vulnerable villagers,” Byrs said. “Since April there has been a huge increase in extortion, rape, and murder,” she added.
Byrs said the violence was directly linked to increased militarization in the region following the announcement of impending operations against rebel groups, including Hutu rebels group FDLR and Mai-Mai militia.
“They are taking advantage of a period of limbo between the announcement of operations and actual deployment to create havoc and chaos in the region," said Byrs.
“There is a clear link between militarization and rape.
“Rape has always been used as a weapon of war, and without this situation becoming public knowledge, it could go on and on with total impunity. Enough is enough,” she added.
Some 1,128 homes were burned down in three villages during attacks in which 77 people were killed with machetes and knives then burned alive in one attack by the FDLR, according to the UN.
"There is terrible violence currently in Sud-Kivu, especially in the region of Kakeli," Byrs explained.
During the first three months of the year, 463 rape cases were recorded in most of the province, equivalent to more than half of the total cases registered there last year.
FRANCE 24 correspondent Arnaud Zaijtman, who is based in the DRC, says the report proves that a current lull in fighting between Government troops and rebel militias has hidden the reality of increasing violence.
According to Zajtman: “Combatants who were previously supported by Rwanda have joined the DRC national army – but they have kept many of their weapons and money to keep up their illegal attacks.”
“There is a definite feeling that fighting will erupt again. And the rebels are taking advantage of the lull to get more funds and more weapons to fight,” our correspondent adds.
Date created : 2009-05-20