Attacks against aid workers on the rise

Attacks against aid workers and their convoys have increased in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since the start of the year, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Meanwhile, civilians continue to bear the brunt of violence meted out by various armed groups and the national army, according to aid agencies and advocacy groups.

"On average, there are 11 attacks against humanitarian workers per month, roughly one incident every three days," said OCHA spokesman Nestor Yombo.

There was a 22 percent increase in such attacks in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008, he said.

Violent attacks, such as armed robberies on offices and private homes, are particularly prevalent in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, where many NGOs have their regional headquarters.

Beyond rural areas, attacks tend to target humanitarian convoys travelling without armed escorts.

Armed groups of various stripes, both domestic and foreign, are still active in eastern DRC, despite a military operation conducted jointly by the DRC and Rwandan armies to neutralise a Rwandan armed group present in the region for more than a decade.

Attacks against civilians have also increased, notably in the second half of March, and in areas such as Lubero, Masisi and Walikale in North Kivu and Kalehe in South Kivu, according to Human Rights Watch.

“Rwandan rebel forces, government army soldiers, and their allies have raped at least 90 women and girls since late January 2009 in the volatile North and South Kivu provinces of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the Rwandan rebel forces have also been implicated in the deaths of most of the 180 civilians killed during this period,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Since the DRC-Rwandan operation began in January, some 250,000 civilians have been put to flight. Many of them had already been displaced on several occasions over recent years.

Photo: Les Neuhaus/IRIN
Civilians continue to bear the brunt of violence in eastern Congo - file photo

Oxfam has warned that a severe humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the region.

"The war is far from over for ordinary Congolese. These terrible human tragedies are happening in remote areas far away from television cameras, but this does not make the suffering less real for those concerned," Marcel Stoessel, Head of Oxfam in the Democratic Republic of Congo said.

"Homes and shops are being looted and ransacked, women and girls are being raped, and civilians are being forced to flee, many for the third or fourth time. We are helping them pick up the pieces by increasing our emergency work. It is tragic to see Congo’s civilians caught up in this awful violence yet again," he added.