DRC: Decapitation and hunger, survivors relive horror

2017-06-16 12:00
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Kikwit - "Some people have even eaten sand to try and prevent starvation," says Paulin Kiyankayi, a grim-faced doctor at Kikwit general hospital in DRC.

He is tired after struggling for months to deal with a huge rise in the numbers of sick and hungry filling his wards, displaced people fleeing an upsurge in violence between tribal militias and the security forces in the central Kasai region.

"They suffer from anaemia, fever, diarrhoea and abrasions," Kiyankayi states, listing some of the many health issues he's battling to treat with limited supplies. "And all are affected by malnutrition."

About 1.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes in DR Congo's Kasai region, including 60 000 children, after a series of killings left hundreds dead.

The UN says at least 42 mass graves have been found.

Since last September, the armed followers of tribal chieftain Kamwina Nsapu - who was killed in 2016 - have challenged the authority of the central government, in the belief that Nsapu is still alive, because he was buried by officials with no respect to tribal tradition.

Violence and human rights abuses 

The fighting has led to a sharp deterioration in the political, security and humanitarian situation in Democratic Republic of Congo, and almost every week there are new victims of violence and human rights abuses.

"The militia appeared from nowhere and gathered the population together," newly-widowed Nzenga tells AFP.

Around a dozen militiamen riding motorbikes and wearing red bandanas, arrived near her village in Kasai province in May armed with machetes and bows and arrows claiming, she says, that they were going to "liberate" the people.

Instead they burned down the villagers' homes and decapitated her husband.

"He was a nurse and they accused him of working for the government," says the 30-year-old in a ripped red and white shirt. "They killed four other people who refused to listen to their message (to oppose the government)."

People 'are dead or have left'

After her husband's murder, Nzenga and her five children fled their home, walking for several days before eventually catching a lift to Kikwit, more than 350 kilometres away.

The family are among 17 000 displaced people, mostly women and children, to be registered by the authorities in the area, working with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Since April, some 30 000 people fleeing killing, physical mutilation and sexual violence in DRC have also arrived in neighbouring Angola and this week the UN refugee agency called for more resources to cope with the influx.

The UN has accused the Kamwina Nsapu rebels of a string of atrocities, while also blaming the Congolese army of disproportionate use of force.

Jean Kitambala, a 41-year-old street trader, is another survivor to escape the violence, but other members of his family were not so lucky.

He holds two of his children in his arms as he recounts how their mother was decapitated by militiamen. His three other children are missing.

"Our village is deserted. The people are either dead or they have left," says Kitambala.

"The militias arrived in January but started to kill in May. But people are also afraid of the army because it considers many men to be militants," he adds.

For local people, the sparks of violence have spread like bushfire because of a deep-seated resentment of both President Joseph Kabila's regime and the local authorities.

The DRC has been in a constitutional crisis since Kabila refused to step down after his term ended last year.

A succession deal brokered by the Catholic Church, that would see Mr Kabila hand over power by the end of this year, has failed to resolve the crisis and the militias want the local population to rise up against him.

"We lived in peace before" the death of Nsapu, explains 63-year-old Kaluma, a diamond miner, whose nephew was killed by a rebel group. "If you agree to join them, the militiamen will let you live."

Read more on:    joseph kabila  |  drc  |  central africa

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