Thousands flee fighting in eastern DR Congo to Uganda

April 12, 2018

 

 

At first the silence is strange, then unnerving.

 

An African village missing its people.

 

Perhaps 2,000 men, woman and children, vanished.

 

But as we walk down the steep, rutted track that leads off the main road we see why.

 

House after house lies in blackened ruins. Roof beams turned to charcoal. Mud walls collapsed. Doors kicked in.

 

The wide market square is deserted except for Bambu Desiree, his wife and baby son, who sit in a lonely corner next do a wrecked house.

They’re the only family left.

 

"When they came, they ran through the village with bows and arrows and machetes," says Bambu.

Some set fire to the houses, others looted their contents.

 

"One of our men was cooking, he didn’t get away in time," Bambu tells me. "They chopped him down and he died."

 

Ethnic violence is nothing new in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but the killing spree here is on a chilling scale.

It is also just one of several bloody conflicts that suggests a nation falling apart.

 

In Ituri Province, in the far north west, most of the atrocities are committed by the Lendu people against the Hemas.

 

"They were our neighbours. They used the same market and prayed at the same church," says Ngaimoko Augustin.

He was too old to run when the raiders came. So he hid and watched in horror as the carnage unfolded.

 

"They had no pity for anyone. They went for everyone. Those who were strong got away. But most of those they caught were the women and children who could not run so fast."

 

He says 83 died in his village.

 

No one we talked to could explain why the violence is so extreme and why it has happened so suddenly.

 

President Joseph Kabile, whose term in office officially expired in 2016, has been forced by international pressure to call elections for later this year.

Some suspect the chaos might be used as a reason to delay them again.

 

Meanwhile, as the state’s authority recedes, local warlords and foreign interests vie for power and influence.

 

Whoever or whatever is to blame, there is a lot at stake.

 

The green rolling hills of Ituri Province are rich in gold, though little of the wealth seems to find its way into local pockets.

 

"It is a very successful extraction industry. All the money leaves the country straight away," says one official; a joke as sardonic as it is accurate.

For now, hopes of peace lie with just 15,000 UN troops, tasked to police a country the size of western Europe on a budget that’s just been cut.

 

We spent time with a small detachment of Bangladeshi soldiers, whose enthusiasm was not matched by their number.

 

They have an area of almost 6,000 square kilometres to patrol.

 

Add in appalling roads rendered even worse by the rainy season - when it can take an hour to travel a few miles - and you realise the difficulties.

 

Yet the DRC government wants even this modest force gone by 2020. And it’s also threatened to boycott Friday’s conference in Geneva, when donors will be asked to stump up $1.7 billion (£1.2 billion) to meet the humanitarian crisis.

 

That’s an ambitious target in a world distracted by crises in Syria and Yemen.

 

But what is happening in the DRC is on just as vast and troubling a scale:

 

13m

People in need of humanitarian help.

 

8m

The number facing severe food insecurity.

 

4.5m

The population forced from their homes.

 

A few thousand find shelter in a densely crowded camp in the town of Bunia.

Here, there are many survivors of shocking savagery.

 

Grace is a young girl who saved her baby sister but watched her mother butchered.

 

"They chopped her neck and she fell. She was pregnant. They cut open her belly. First they pulled out the baby and they killed her. I saw four other people die," she says.

 

Her sister Rachel plays in the dirt. There’s a deep scar left by the machete on a head and face. Grace lost her left hand to the same blade.

 

"I can’t say why they did this. They wanted money. We had none," she says.

 

She managed to run. So many others have paid in in blood.

 

© 2018 ITV News

 

 

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