Oxfam questions military action in DR Congo


CIVILIANS IN eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are facing an increased risk of rape and forced labour as a result of internationally backed military operations against rebel groups, according to a new report by aid agency Oxfam.

The survey of people living in north and south Kivu provinces in eastern Congo found 75 per cent of women felt in more danger than a year ago. This rose to 99 per cent in the parts of south Kivu, which is at the centre of a UN-supported offensive by the Congolese army against the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) and other rebel groups.

Some 65 per cent of boys surveyed said they were less safe, with this rising to 100 per cent in areas where operations were ongoing.

Women said rape had increased in 20 of the 24 communities surveyed, with boys stating that schools were often raided to provide forced labour.

“The military operations are having a devastating effect on Congolese communities, who are being attacked from all sides,” said Marcel Stoessel, head of Oxfam in Congo.

“The army is supposed to protect people, but until real root-and-branch military reform takes place, the risks this offensive poses to communities are just too high.”

Crimes committed by the army, which included killing, torture, burning houses and gang rape, were so extreme that they were often indistinguishable from the worst excesses of the FDLR, which is descended from those Hutu groups who carried out the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Three-quarters of communities reported looting, with soldiers taking everything from cash and mobile phones to livestock and food. A separate survey in Kabare, south Kivu, found that 15 army checkpoints in the area may be making as much as $18,000 a month through extortion.

More than 20,000 civilians fled fighting in eastern Congo in the last week, according to the United Nations, as the Democratic Republic of Congo’s army pursued Ugandan rebels in Congo’s north Kivu province, near the Ugandan border. The offensive is aimed at finally driving rebel groups from the east of the country, which they have used as a base since the Rwandan genocide saw hundreds of thousands of refugees cross the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1994. A UN peacekeeping force is charged with stabilising the region, but the Congolese government has asked them to leave as they insist it violates the country’s sovereignty.