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Rebels rewrite Congo's history

CNDP rebels stand to attention at a ceremony in Rutshuru

By Mark Doyle
BBC News, Rutshuru

The main road running through the farming town of Rutshuru in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo holds several pointers to life under the new rebel administration.

The ethnic-Tutsi dominated CNDP rebels - the National Council for the Defence of the People - chased the last remnants of the Congolese government army from here about two weeks ago.

This is not just a Tutsi movement. The Tutsis do have a particular problem, but we stand for the defence of all minorities
Kumbasu Ngeve
CNDP political committee chairman

On the left-hand side of the main thoroughfare, as I entered the town from the direction of Goma, a meeting was taking place at the local teacher training college. A rebel officer was giving a lecture in a mixture of French and Swahili to assembled municipal officials.

A "seminar" is what rebels called it.

The rather cowed-looking officials - who a month ago were reporting to the national government in the capital, Kinshasa - were making copious notes about the new ideology they would now espouse.

The lecture was about the history of Congo - or, at least, about the rebel version of that history.

'Some food now'

On the other side of the road, in Rutshuru football stadium, an aid agency was distributing food aid - flour and cooking oil.

Rutshuru residents line up at a local stadium to receive food aid
Rebels withdrew from two fronts to create humanitarian corridors

A crowd of scared and hungry-looking people were being marshalled into lines.

Journalists approached one young woman who was queuing up for her ration.

"How is it here?" she was asked.

"Well at least I will have some food now," she said. "But my problem is the rebels killed my brother."

That was all she was willing to divulge, before leaving in something of a hurry.

At the far end of the main road, high on a hill, is the new political headquarters of the rebels in Rutshuru.

Soldiers were polishing their boots on the front porch of the large residential house.

Kumbasu Ngeve, the chairman of the CNDP political committee, a stocky man in a black tunic, was holding forth in the lounge.

"This is not just a Tutsi movement," he insisted. "The Tutsis do have a particular problem, but we stand for the defence of all minorities."

Mr Ngeve is an ethnic Nande.

He also said that although his movement might cease fire, it would hit back hard if the government forces continued to attack them.

"That's legitimate defence," he said, raising his voice in the sparsely furnished room - which was nevertheless decorated with garish plastic flowers and a bowl of plastic fruit.

In another part of town, I visited Rutshuru General Hospital. The Congolese doctors and nurses here are supported by a team from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

What started off for this baby as a simple cold has turned into broncho-pneumonia because she was in the mountains
Nurse Michelle Van Den Burgh

The supervisor of the surgical ward, a tall man in a white coat, is Francois Bahuga.

I asked him how it would be if MSF was not there to provide drugs and expertise.

"It would be a catastrophe," he said quite simply, "a humanitarian catastrophe."

The MSF field co-ordinator, an efficient-looking Dutch nurse, Michelle Van Den Burgh, said that when the fighting began in Rutshuru three weeks ago, bullet and shrapnel wounds were the most common complaint.

"Eighty-five or 90% of our cases were war wounds," she said. "But now it's back to the more usual caseload - communicable diseases, malaria and so on."

"We can often deal with bullet wounds quite quickly," she added. "The wound is often clean, so we just remove the fragment and sew it up."

Congolese baby cries while being vaccinated
Hundreds of thousands of the displaced require medical attention

But one 18-month-old baby, Moise, was still in surgery ward one with a bullet wound in his leg.

Moise's mother was killed in the fighting.

His leg is so tiny that when he, too, took a bullet fragment it half destroyed his leg and it had to be put in plaster for recovery.

But the war is also the indirect cause of some of the current caseload.

"People fled into the mountains to escape the fighting and are only coming to us several weeks after they have symptoms of serious illnesses," said the blonde Dutch nurse. "So their condition is worse than it would be because treatment is late."

A woman sat on a bed with her baby girl.

"What started off for this baby as a simple cold has turned into broncho-pneumonia because she was in the mountains," Ms Van Den Burgh told me.

A young boy was sitting on another bed, his left hand fiddling uncomfortably with a bandage on his right.

He had lost two fingers in a traffic accident as a truck load of people tried to flee the fighting.

Ten people were killed in the accident and 48 wounded, the MSF co-ordinator reported.

'Step-by-step'

Back at the teacher training college, on my way out of town, I spoke to one of the local administrators who had attended the "seminar".

They are more disciplined than the government army - they are not looting and there is security
Seminar participant

One of the participants at the meeting sought permission from his superiors to be interviewed by me. Nevertheless, I thought he was extremely brave to agree to speak.

"They are trying to teach us the history of our country," said the participant, choosing his words carefully.

I asked him if the reality was that he and his colleagues were being forced to accept the new ideology.

"No," he said. "We are not being forced. We accept their analysis of the situation," he added in a deliberate voice.

I asked him if he was scared.

"We are not scared," he insisted. "It is in the interests of us and of our people to accept these people. We live here; we cannot leave our town. We are going to see how we can try to live together and build the country."

While rebel soldiers stood nearby, the local administrator added:

"From what I have seen of them they are kind. They are more disciplined than the government army - they are not looting and there is security. Although people are still scared, security is coming here step-by-step."

Map of eastern DR Congo



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