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Last Updated: Friday, 11 May 2007, 02:06 GMT 03:06 UK
DR Congo's unending war
By Mike Thomson
BBC News, eastern DR Congo

Displaced people cue for food
Thousands have fled violence into camps in the past month
The brutal war in the Democratic Republic of Congo which left between three to four million dead is supposed to be over, but you would not know it.

Thousands of people have been pouring into this camp for displaced people north of the regional capital, Goma, in recent weeks and the stories they bring with them are horrific.

A woman who lost her father and brother in an attack on her village by rebel militia told me she saw 100 people killed.

"And that is not even counting the dead bodies they made us throw down the wells."

The army began to kill people, going from street to street without taking care whether they were rebels or not
Villager

Another man tells me about similar carnage that happened not far away. This time the attackers were members of the Congolese army itself.

"Rebels ambushed a colonel of the army and after this they said they would attack all the population because they said we were directly helping the rebels against them.

"So, the army began to kill people inside my village, going from street to street to kill people without taking care whether they were rebels or not."

Broken peace promises

The United Nations' World Food Programme says that more than 50,000 people from three villages have been forced to flee their homes over the past month alone.
map

A spokesman told me that in the past such people would return soon after but not anymore.

Camps like the one I am in, about 30 kilometres from the Ugandan border, are becoming permanent for the first time.

In all, 200,000 people here now need food aid and 1,000 across the east are estimated to be dying of conflict related diseases every single day.

This is supposed to be a country at peace.

In December 2002, a peace agreement signed between DR Congo's President Kabila and various militia leaders brought an official end to the fighting.

Many of the rebel commanders were given lucrative posts in the transitional government and most of their militia men were integrated into the national army.

Part of the problem has been that a combination of low wages for soldiers, only around a dollar a day, plus endemic corruption which often reduces that still further, means they do have enough to live on.

As a result they go back to do what they have done for so long, taking what whey want from civilians at the point of a gun.

Collapse of justice

In 2005 alone, there were more than 40,000 reported rapes or other serious sexual assaults in Congo, most of them committed by either rebel or government soldiers.

UN soldiers search for rebel militias
The UN peacekeeping force is the world's largest

Murders, kidnappings and robberies are also rife. Few, however, face justice for their crimes in a country where the criminal justice system has, in many places, virtually collapsed.

Those who are convicted of such offences can usually buy their way out of jail, many others simply offer to pay bereaved families the price of a coffin for the loved one they killed.

The government in Kinshasa still insists that it's winning the battle against marauding militia gangs in the east.

With the help of 17,000 UN peacekeepers, the biggest and most expensive force of it's kind in the world, it claims to have demobilised around 150,000 rebels.

Government Soldier from the Congolese army
The prospects of the fighting ending soon look bleak

This still leaves an estimated 70,000 armed militia still roaming the bush, some of them children as young as seven.

As many as 10,000 of these are Rwandan Hutu militia known as Interahamwe, who fled here after their part in the 1994 genocide across the border which left up to two million people dead.

Congolese troops are currently involved in a new military effort to drive these vicious fighters from the forests that cover the border area, but they face a daunting task.

The first democratic elections last year in more than four decades brought fresh hope to this trouble country, but for many here in the east, that optimism is already beginning to fade.




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