Sat, May 05, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Renewed clashes displace thousands in DR Congo

AFP, MUGUNGA, DR CONGO

When clashes between rebels and the army hit Mushaki in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s east, Jean-Pierre ran for his life with his wife and two children.

“When I left my village for Sake, I saw two bodies in military uniforms, and in a ravine, I saw three bodies in civilian clothes,” the 28-year-old said.

“It’s really terrible! People are dead here,” he added.

The banana grower and his family got to Sake, about 40km away from his village in the troubled Nord-Kivu Province, but when shooting began again there, they were forced on the road again.

This time, Jean-Pierre was separated from his wife and their children and arrived alone in Mugunga, about 3km from Sake.

Like Jean-Pierre, thousands of Congolese have been displaced and then displaced again by the unrest that has plagued the eastern part of the country.

The Congolese government has blamed the latest violence on ex-rebel leader Jean-Bosco Ntaganda, after forces loyal to the general defected from the army to fight national troops.

Some of the defectors attacked army troops on Sunday last week at Mwesa in Nord-Kivu, which borders Rwanda, and clashes have continued in the surrounding areas.

Ntaganda has denied responsibility for the violence.

About 400 displaced people, mostly women and children, have sought refuge in the School of Peace in Mugunga, a Catholic school. Half of them camped out in the courtyard, as all the classrooms were already full.

Goats are wandering close to small groups of children who are weak and starving after having walked for hours or days before reaching the shelter.

“I don’t know what I am going to feed my children with tonight. We have nothing to eat,” said Suzanne, 30, a cassava grower who traveled 45km to arrive in Mugunga with her husband and four children.

“I want to return to my village in Mushaki to look for food, but the rebels are still there,” she said.

Her husband has gone out to find out what is happening in their village.

Rather than wait for aid supplies to arrive, some of the displaced have already been seeking their own solutions.

“To find gruel for my daughter, I went to a village to look for someone who might need a service and who can give me food in exchange,” said Petroline, 27, who is heavily pregnant.

However, finding food for her child is not her only worry.

“I have not seen my husband in two days. I heard that people have drowned in a lake while looking for water. I am worried, I don’t know how I can find information,” she said.

Besides the lack of food, there is another nagging fear in the back of everyone’s head — that the fighting could once again force them to flee.

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