Rising tensions in North Kivu push more Congolese from their homes
MUGUNGA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, September 3 (UNHCR) - People are again fleeing from their homes in North Kivu as tension and terror return to the border province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Petronilla Nsiya watched in horror early last week when armed men entered her village, Sake, frogmarched her neighbour from his hut, tied him to a tree and then butchered him. The man's wife was shot in the stomach.
"When we saw what they did to our neighbours, we had to leave. There was a long chorus of gunfire in the distance. I took my children and ran to save our lives," said the 40-year-old mother of four, who has fled her home four times in the last 10 months. She has found shelter in a school near Mugunga.
Thousands of other Congolese civilians have also fled rising tension and attacks on their villages in North Kivu and there are fears of further population displacement.
The attacks have been blamed on an array of rebel groups such as the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR); the Mai-Mai militia; and soldiers allied to Laurent Nkunda, who recently withdrew his men from the national army in violation of peace accords aimed at ending the violence in North Kivu. Fingers have also been pointed at government soldiers.
The UN refugee agency was part of an inter-agency team that on Sunday met groups of newly displaced people walking towards Sake and Mugunga - location of a site for internally displaced people (IDPs) - after fleeing from their villages in North Kivu's Masisi area.
At the end of August, Mugunga hosted some 9,000 IDPs; the site leader, himself an IDP, claimed that the figure had since doubled because of the fresh inflow of people fleeing their villages.
Some people, like Nsiya, have fled after attacks on their villages, while others have run after reports of nearby fighting. On August 27, for example, reports of an attack on government soldiers in Mushake, near Sake, spread panic in the area and sent hundreds of terrified villagers scampering for safety.
Nsiya and her children ended up joining a column of 600-800 people who fled from Sake towards Goma. She and others finally camped at the Great Lakes Primary School located some 500 metres from the IDP site at Mugunga, which lies about 15 kilometres west of Goma. Some had just the clothes on their backs.
"When you hear gunfire, you do not think about your belongings. You just take your children and run," one woman explained. "You do not even lock the door behind you," she added.
The IDPs said they had left few possessions behind. Their cattle, goats and crops had been stolen by the armed men who terrorized many villages in North Kivu. "At night, people sleep in the bush. If they find you in the house you will be killed, especially if you do not have anything to give them," said one villager.
The nearby Mugunga IDP site is a sea of green plastic sheeting covering flimsy shacks perched on the jagged lava rocks. The IDPs here tell the same harrowing tales about the armed groups as their compatriots at the school.
"Armed men attacked us and looted our food. If you did not have food, or money, even livestock, they killed you. As we were fleeing to come here last year, they burnt our houses. We have no homes. We have nothing there," said Mangaiko Matogari from the pygmy community.
Matogari fled from his home in Ngungu, Masisi district last November. His wife and three children work on nearby farms in exchange for food. This supplements the rations they get from UN agencies.
The UN estimates that more than 180,000 Congolese have been displaced from their homes since December 2006 in the increasingly anarchic North Kivu province. Many of the displaced have been living with host families, but with that option almost exhausted more and more have to find shelter in special sites.
With a growing number of people going to IDP sites, UNHCR is training IDP communities to become more involved in their day-to-day management.
By Millicent Mutuli in Mugunga, Democratic Republic of the Congo