Internally displaced people (IDPs) are still being abducted by armed groups for forced labour in several territories in North Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) even as authorities beef up security in IDP camps, officials said.
“Men often spend the day away from the [IDP] sites for fear of being abducted, but most abductions occur during the night,” states a 5 February update issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Rutshuru Territory, which has about 129,000 IDPs, is among the most affected.
In southern Walikale Territory, Rwandan Hutu Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda (FDLR) militia on 28 January attacked civilians in the village of Isuka and abducted seven people, who have yet to be released, to transport looted goods, added OCHA.
Marie-Claire Bangwene, Masisi Territory administrator, said police had been deployed to two IDP camps there to ensure security and prevent militia attacks.
Armed attackers raided Muhanga IDP camp, in Masisi on 15 January, looting aid from an NGO. On 22 January, another attack on Nyange camp, also in Masisi, left three people dead. The government has started an inquiry into the attacks, Bangwene told IRIN.
"After the Nyange [attack], the camps were secured by FARDC [DRC army] soldiers and the FDLR withdrew toward the villages of Binga [about 60km away], and Mutongo [90km by road]…” the president of Masisi civil society, Thomas d'Aquin Muipi Luanda, told IRIN, noting that the often unpaid FARDC sometimes lacked the motivation to promptly respond to rebel attacks.
"Many people spend the night hidden outside their homes, while checkpoints established by the national army hinder the passage of civilians from areas affected by combat," OCHA said. "This compounds an already difficult situation in terms of humanitarian access, where 30 percent of intended beneficiaries are not currently accessible to humanitarians."
At least 12 incidents targeting humanitarian organizations occurred in the region in January, OCHA said.
An aid official in Goma, North Kivu capital, who requested anonymity, said some IDP camps were in remote areas, making them more vulnerable to attacks, forced recruitment and other forms of harassment.
Photo: Les Neuhaus/IRIN
|Indian soldiers attached with MONUC patrol the streets of the North Kivu provincial capital, Goma (file photo)|
There are about 900,000 IDPs in North Kivu, most of whom live with host families; about 117,000 are in 47 camps. There are about 2.1 million IDPs in the DRC, according to UN estimates.
"Ultimately, better protection for IDPs [is a] subject of national security," he told IRIN. "Physical security/protection of IDPs is the responsibility of the Congolese government. However, IDP camps are prone to entry by anyone. [It is] therefore impossible to police each of the camps’ perimeters."
However, raids on and intrusions into camps by armed military personnel or militia groups "were in direct violation of the civilian purpose for which these camps were established and the civilian population that lives in these camps", UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) external relations officer for eastern DRC, David Benthu Nthengwe, told IRIN.
The Nyange camp attack was reportedly carried out by the FDLR militia. In Muhanga, FARDC soldiers took possession of items belonging to an NGO, disrupting aid distribution.
The attacks came as the Congolese government, with logistical support from the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), started a military offensive dubbed Amani Leo [Swahili for “peace today”] to oust FDLR rebels within three months.
"The formal concept of this third consecutive military offensive [puts] a strong emphasis on [the] protection of civilians, common planning, and conditionality of MONUC support linked to respect of human rights by FARDC," Guillaume Lacaille, a senior analyst for Central Africa with the International Crisis Group (ICG), told IRIN.
FARDC has often been accused of perpetrating civilian abuses.
"After a full year of military offensives... the Congolese authorities have not yet been able to establish state sovereignty over both the North and South Kivu provinces," he said. "Many Congolese illegal armed groups continue to recruit and operate... Several hundred thousand IDPs remain scared of coming back to their area of origin. Human-rights violations are still at a dramatic level."
Bringing peace in the east, Lacaille said, demanded a more comprehensive strategy than military force [alone] and would require a long-term effort from both MONUC and the Congolese authorities.
"It is a reminder that even though President [Joseph] Kabila [has called] for MONUC to start withdrawing its blue helmets in June 2010... MONUC still provides a security guarantee for the [whole] country that FARDC [alone] cannot provide," he said.