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Growing Atrocities Reported Against Civilians in Eastern DRC

U.N. agencies say they are deeply concerned about growing reports of atrocities and abuses against civilians in the North and South Kivu provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They report the attacks are being carried out by the Hutu militia group known as the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda and also increasingly by the Congolese national army.

U.N. aid agencies say the protection of civilians is a major concern in North and South Kivu. They say people are terrified by armed men who harass and intimidate them.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs or OCHA says since April, civilian populations increasingly have become victims of lootings, extortions, killings and rape.

OCHA spokeswoman, Elizabeth Byrs, tells VOA there has been a huge surge in sexual violence and rape. Since the beginning of the year, she says 463 rape cases have been registered. But, she says this number is grossly underestimated and does not reflect the true magnitude of the problem.

"Rape in Congo and some other places has always been used as a weapon of war," said Byrs. "It is not a new fact. But, now more and more women report to health structure centers. And, this is really important because the majority is so ashamed that they never report and they never get treatment. So, more and more women are conscience of their rights and they report."

The U.N. refugee agency reports attacks by rebel groups and government forces are causing widespread displacement in the region. UNHCR spokesman, Andrew Purvis, says attacks in two villages in South and North Kivu provinces two weeks ago, caused the death of more than 60 people.

He says more than 700 houses were burned. He notes renewed violence against civilians continues to cause panic and to cause people to flee.

"And a large number of people we understand are on the roads now heading north of Busuringi to find shelter," said Purvis. "Since January, attacks by the FDLR [Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda] in North and South Kivu have driven more than 370,000 people from their homes and into the forests and other places of refuge."

The UNHCR and OCHA are appealing to the DRC government to provide protection to the civilian population and to end the atmosphere of impunity surrounding crimes committed by the Congolese national army, the national police and armed rebels.