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Humanitarian Group Reports Increase in Rape, Violence in Congo's Ituri Province

  • Lisa Schlein

The head of the humanitarian organization, Doctors Without Borders, reports an increase in rape and violence in the Ituri province in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The international president of Doctors Without Borders, Rowan Gillies, spent a month working in a hospital in Bunia.

He says he was shocked by the extent of abuse.

"You get called down to the clinic to see a woman has been raped. She tells you a story of militia people, usually two or more, and usually with the threat of a weapon or knife, raping them over a long period of time. And, this happens every day in the hospital," he explained.

Over the last 20 months, Dr. Gillies says, more than 2,500 women have been raped. Since fighting among different armed groups flared again in January, he says, the number of rapes and the incidence of general violence has increased significantly.

Congo is struggling to recover from a five-year war that sucked in six neighboring countries. Nearly four million people have died since 1998.

Dr. Gillies says the increased violence in Ituri is hampering relief efforts, particularly outside the provincial capital, Bunia.

"As you can imagine, the security situation for women is bad anyway. The security situation overall seems to have deteriorated to the point that we have had to suspend some of our operations outside of Bunia town," he said. "We have a big operation in Bunia town, but outside of Bunia town, we have been doing mobile clinics and vaccination, and so on, for the people that have been displaced from the recent fighting. So, there are small groups - well, not so small - 6,000 to 8,000 people in different groups in small camps around Ituri, and we can no longer get access to them because of the increasing instability."

The United Nations estimates around 80,000 displaced people have managed to get to the relative safety of several camps managed by U.N. peacekeepers. It says many more civilians, who are unable to reach these places of asylum, are hiding in the bush.

Dr. Gillies says food is in short supply, and in some of the affected areas, one in four children already are showing signs of moderate or severe malnutrition.

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