Rebels' mutilation campaign

2010-05-17 10:12

Nyangara - Mboli Hundele, 31, has a pretty, fine-featured face, but it has been atrociously mutilated by Ugandan rebels who slashed off her lips in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Hundele was caught on April 13 by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), one of the most brutal rebel movements in the world, which is active in this remote part of the DRC and neighbouring Central African Republic and South Sudan.

The rebels "encircled me by surprise", Hundele said at the hospital in Nyangara, in the northern end of the northeast Orientale Province.

They caught her when she was working in the fields about 3km from Nyangara.

She cried "Help, Jesus, I am dead". When they questioned her, all she could answer was "Jesus".

"They said that I talked too much, that I would have to be quiet," the young woman said, trembling and speaking with difficulty through a large bandage that exposed her teeth and gums.

Then "one of them took some pincers, pulled on my lips and cut them with a knife. They also cut off one of my ears. Then they told me to run", she added.

Such mutilations in which the lips and an ear are cut off have been the lot of several dozen people in the region, according to a local member of parliament.

These actions were "a distinctive sign of LRA attacks in the early 1990s in the north of Uganda, but they had not been reported before in the Congo", said the US-based Human Rights Watch in a report published in March.

Everything happens very fast

The rights group accused the LRA of massacring 321 civilians in four days in mid-December in the Nyangara territory.

In its report, HRW said that the Ugandan rebels had accused six civilians of divulging the LRA's location to the Congolese army. The rebels said they would leave a "mark to tell the population to stop talking about the LRA" and they did so by slashing people's lips and ears off with razors.

According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), which carries out conflict analysis, "the killings and mutilations are part of the strategy of terror by the LRA aimed at dissuading survivors from co-operating with the Ugandan army (which is present in the region) and other national armies".

Resorting to such methods as mutilation is intended to "leave traces and instill a sense of horror" among the population, said Jean-Charles Dupint, the chief of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Oriental Province.

"To leave somebody scarred for life is, in extreme cases, worse than a dead person," Dupint argued.

The rebels "have the practice of surrounding the victim before attacking. Everything happens very fast. In two minutes, you find the person mutilated or dead," said Tade Muhinde, a resident of Nyangara.

The chairman of a grouping of local civil society organisations, Domain Sametu, stressed that the attacks took place in districts on the outskirts of Nyangara, where people live because the army is present. "But that is not enough. People are still terrified."

Josette, a thin 21-year-old survivor of the atrocities committed by the LRA in December, who now lives in Nyangara, remains traumatised: "We live in fear. Everyone is waiting for their turn."