The curse of resources

Source of Congo's endless conflict

Top: A mother presents her surviving child. She is part of a group of 3,500 people who fled rape and murder in Mongwalu, one of the many towns in north-east Congo under siege from the different factions of rebel groups backed by foreign armies.

The conflict in Congo, which is responsible for the deaths of millions, is driven by an endless struggle to control the country's abundant natural resources.

A spokesman for the displaced group, Mr Ushuto - who led the escape to a camp in Eringeti - told us many had not survived the 60 mile walk through dense jungle in heavy rains.

Many of the children were showing symptoms of Yaws, a bacterial infection common in tropical environments where sanitation is poor, often due to poverty or conflict. The disease is spread by skin contact which is impossible to avoid in large groups of displaced people.

Above: Rebecca Kwekinai from Nyankunde offers Dieumercy and Baraka a safe place to sleep. Rebecca is caring for Dieumercy (18 months - right), whose mother died just a few days ago.

Eringeti, north east Congo.

Below: Zimbabwean journalist, Basildon Peta (left) with the help of Dr Jackson Basikania, speaks with a traumatised Tetyabo-Tebabo Floribert (18) in the Eringeti camp. His mother, three brothers and two sisters were decapitated by rebels. 

Forces from the countries involved in the Congo war – Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi – are allegedly still at large. They are backing the tribes they see as the best proxies to facilitate their continued plunder and theft of the DRC's vast mineral resources. The fighting between the Hema and Lendu tribes in north-eastern DRC has been the most ferocious. The six countries claim to have withdrawn their forces. But first-hand accounts by displaced Congolese suggest they are still there. Mr Ushuto said: "I can tell you that the Ugandans and Rwandese soldiers are still here and fighting to get our resources."

An official with a rival rebel group, the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Liberation (RCD-ML), said: "We hear reports of MLC and RCD-N commanders feeding on sexual organs of Pygmies, apparently believing this would give them strength. We also have reports of Pygmies being forced to feed on cooked remains of their colleagues."

As he arrived at a centre for displaced people at Eringeti, Cwinyai Ushuto said: "We have suffered a lot. Why does the world keep on standing back when Congolese are being slaughtered like sheep in an abattoir?" The centre is near rebel-controlled Beni, about 1,250 miles north-east of the capital, Kinshasa, and about 30 miles from the Ugandan border.

More than 40,000 people were crammed into the centre when I recently visited. Tearfund, a British charity, is battling to provide relief supplies.

Although none of the refugees I spoke to mentioned cannibalism explicitly, their tales of atrocities by the rampaging rebel groups were no less shocking.

Mr Ushuto, 41, fled fierce fighting in Mongwalu, one of the many towns in the north-east under siege from the different factions of rebel groups backed by foreign armies. He led 20 people in the vanguard of a group of 3,500 women and children. By the time he arrived at Eringeti, having walked 60 miles through tropical forests in heavy rain and fog, only nine were alive. The other 11 had succumbed to hunger and disease.

Many more were expected to die in the group behind them. "We pray for those who die along the way and leave their corpses resting on tree trunks. They become meat for the vultures as we have no means to bury them," said Mr Ushuto, who lost all his property to the rebels and was separated from his wife and six children. He carried a bottle of cooking oil, which he spread on his feet to walk faster or run when fleeing the rebels.

Katungu Mwenge, 25, saw her daughters aged seven and nine gang-raped and her husband hacked to death by a rebel faction. She fled with her four other children to Eringeti, where they were using banana tree leaves for blankets under a leaking plastic roof.

Tetyabo-Tebabo Floribert, 18, was badly traumatised. Rebels decapitated his mother, three brothers and two sisters. Anyasi Senga, 60, fled her village with 40 others and lived in the bush for two months, surviving on wild fruits and roots. Ambaya Estella's three children and her husband were killed by the rebels, who killed most of the inhabitants of her village using axes and machetes. "They held guns but they preferred to decapitate people with axes and knives, probably to make the deaths more painful," she said.

She managed to escape with her orphaned grandchildren during the stampede and walked to Eringeti.

The violence comes despite rebels signing a power-sharing peace deal on 17 December with the government. President Joseph Kabila has raised suspicions in the rebel camp by reportedly deploying large numbers of troops near rebel-controlled territory.

The Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), which formed in 1998 to drive the late president Laurent Kabila from power, subsequently splintered into at least four rebel factions, the RCD-KML, RCD-National, RCD-Goma and UPC, controlling different cities in eastern Congo.

Jean Louis Kyaviro, the secretary general of the RCD-KML, said his group intended to use captured Ugandan prisoners as evidence that foreign forces still fought in the Congo.

Above: A pygmy elder who led his tribe to temporary safety in the Eringeti displacement camp. The indigenous pygmies, believed to be the original inhabitants of the Congo, are increasingly being forced deeper into the jungle by the fighting. Driven from their traditional foraging and hunting grounds, they are suffering increasing health problems.