Killings, torture, looting in eastern DRC
Paris - Civilians in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are bearing the brunt of a surge in activity by the marauding former Ugandan rebels, Oxfam said in a report on Thursday.
Communities in the remote region are already among the most isolated and vulnerable on the continent but their plight has worsened further over the past year, the report said.
The UK-based charity has been conducting annual assessments on the protection of civilians in the region since 2007 but was only able to carry out a comprehensive study in LRA-affected areas for the first time this year.
"Small groups of hungry fighters constantly on the move continue to viciously target the most isolated and forgotten populations," said the report, entitled "We are entirely exploitable".
"Some 30 000 civilians fled the LRA in the first three months of 2011, bringing the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the area to 330 000," Oxfam said.
The report said that 62% of people interviewed in the affected region of Haut Uele alone said they felt less safe than last year.
The research details a vicious cycle whereby every new attack makes entire communities even more vulnerable to more abuses by the myriad armed groups operating in the remote province.
"Sentiments that came across strongly in interviews included overwhelming feelings of abandonment and the belief that the Congolese government does not care about communities' security," the report said.
The communities interviewed by Oxfam singled out the LRA as the "main perpetrator of killings, torture, and abductions as well as of looting, destruction of crops and rape".
However it was followed closely by the Congolese army.
In most of Haut Uele, the UN force there was seen as ineffective "because of its lack of patrolling and presence, particularly at the front lines, its lack of communication with the population, and perceptions that its personnel were collaborating with the LRA".
The conflict that has wracked the eastern DRC for the best part of two decades is considered one of the world's forgotten tragedies.
Born in 1988 of the frustration of Uganda's marginalised Acholi ethnic group, the LRA led by former altar boy Joseph Kony was a movement drawing on messianic beliefs and a smattering of Christian motifs.
Kony, now wanted by the International Criminal Court, appears to have dropped any national political agenda and in recent years his marauding troops have sown death and destruction in Sudan, DRC and the Central African Republic.