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Civilians in Eastern DRC Get Little Protection from Armed Groups


Amnesty International says the conflict in the eastern DRC has disrupted the lives of more than half the population in North Kivu Province. That disruption includes displacement, attacks by various armed groups and widespread rape and other forms of sexual violence.

Philippe Hensmans, director of the Belgium francophone section of Amnesty International, just returned to Brussels after traveling through the eastern DRC. He spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about conditions there and gave the latest figures from MONUC, the UN peacekeeping mission in the country. He describes the numbers as "quite terrible."

He says, "One in four inhabitants in K (North) Kivu (Province) are internally displaced persons. They say that 70 percent of the inhabitants in Kivu are IDPs, internally displaced persons, or hosting IDPs. That shows how important the problem is now. They say there are around 1,350,000 people that are displaced in Kivu… And it's getting more and more difficult to help them. The World Food Program is saying that it costs $30 per day for each IDP, compared to $22 last year because of the financial crisis."

Hensmans says Amnesty's staff spoke with IDPs, humanitarian workers, MONUC officials and soldiers and even combatants. "In 20 years of work for Amnesty I've never seen something so terrible."

He compares it to 1994 Rwanda, calling it a "silent genocide," but is quick to explain that is not an official term or explanation being applied to the region. "Genocide is not the appropriate term, but in terms of the number of people who have been killed. Some people are talking about more than five million people killed since a few years. It's not technically a genocide, but what's happening there is that all the population is targeted by all the groups. All the groups have been responsible for human rights violations," he says.

Hensmans says that many more people are hiding in the bush than living in IDP camps. Children are being forced to serve as child soldiers and many women are brutally raped and are warned not to seek help.

"A woman who is raped can get some medicines in 72 hours in order to alleviate (prevent infection) HIV/AIDS. And we got information from humanitarian workers saying that soldiers, after having raped women, told them not to go to these centers to get this medicine, otherwise they would kill them," he says.

Hensmans says that an extra 3,000 MONUC troops approved by the UN Security Council, will not be enough to solve the problem. He says that the Congolese army needs to be paid and reformed, because many soldiers run away from the fighting.