Homes razed in DRC's border zone with Rwanda

2015-09-10 17:55

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Goma - Bulldozers, homes in ruins, anger: after years of war the people of Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo now are bearing the brunt of moves to clear a neutral zone on the border with Rwanda to prevent further conflict.

After living through one of the world's worst conflicts in mineral-rich eastern DRC, residents of Mapendo, a district of Goma, recently found their homes wrecked in their absence.

"We weren't even warned," says Francois Mirindi, a priest who stares helplessly at the bulldozed remains of the house he lived in for "nearly 25 years... They came unexpectedly."

The pastor has since lived in the church behind the ruins. "We'll see if there's any compensation. In the meantime, we can do nothing. I just have to put up with it," he adds with a resigned smile.

Young people sit together on piles of rubble, the majestic Nyiragongo volcano in the distance. "We busied ourselves by making what passes for a tent, where nine boys sleep," Moise says.

"But we're short of water and there are no toilets," adds Constave.

Nearby, 10-year-old Zawadi is with five siblings. Her widowed mother has gone to find food. Soon night will fall and the family will retire to a makeshift lean-to shelter.

Who ordered the demolition? "Tumbula," she says.

Colonial border markers

Roger Rachidy Tumbula is one of the experts working on a joint Congolese-Rwandan commission set up to redefine the frontier by rebuilding the 22 markers put up in 1911 by Belgian and German colonial authorities.

The proposal dates back to 2009 but the demolition work began August 26, under the watchful eyes of Congolese and Rwandan soldiers patrolling the front lines.

News of the demolitions spread rapidly on social networking sites when locals posted pictures of their smashed homes and of people in need of shelter on the Internet.

"We counted about 198 households living in a disorderly fashion in the neutral zone," said Tumbula, who denies the families were taken by surprise when the bulldozers rolled in.

"I've been saying for six months that we were going to come, but people didn't believe that we would actually do it".

Julien Paluku, the governor of North Kivu province, of which Goma is the capital, said "we began to destroy in order to give ourselves a broad boulevard between the two countries and to stop quarrels and infiltrations".

Both North and South Kivu are infested with rebels and armed militias. In June 2014, direct conflict broke out between Kinshasa and Kigali when their troops fought for control of Kanyesheza hill, about 20km northeast of Goma.

Five Congolese soldiers were killed, arousing fears of an escalation in violence between the neighbouring countries, which have a history of tortured ties.

'Not enough for me'

A few days after the battle of Kanyesheja, a monitoring team from nations of the central African Great Lakes region proclaimed that the disputed hill was Congolese territory.

To prevent further clashes, the joint Congolese-Rwandan commission agreed that each side should clear a corridor 6.25 metres wide either side of the frontier pending a definitive settlement.

Similar home destructions should soon take place in Rwanda, with compensation paid to residents, according to Tumbula.

Congolese authorities will not consider direct compensation, even for residents who say they set up house after obtaining permits from a "district chief".

But officials will give "social aid" to families amounting to $100 and five metal sheets to help build new homes, Tumbula says.

Ghislaine, who saw her two houses bulldozed to the ground and today cares for 12 children in a small shelter, is outraged.

"That's not enough for me. The five sheets, where am I going to put them? Where am I going to go? I want a place where we'll be re-housed and they should give us building materials," she says.

Read more on:    drc  |  rwanda  |  east africa  |  central africa

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