Walter James (SOS Femme en Danger – SOSFED): Walter graduated in 2006 from the University of Minnesota. Following college, he worked on international development in Haiti and Senegal, and studied human rights and international development in Senegal, Costa Rica, and Morocco. Walter first visited Eastern Congo as a 2009 Peace Fellow for The Advocacy Project, where he documented the work of civil society organizations such as SOS Femmes en Danger, Arche d’Alliance, and Tunza Mazingira. The following year, he graduated from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy with a Master’s degree in Public Policy.

“A New Phase of Brutality”

24 Mar

There is evidence of a growing humanitarian crisis in Fizi Territory. I have been attending regular OCHA security briefings to keep updated on the situation in Uvira and Fizi. Now, I will share some of what I have been hearing. We start in the Ubwari Peninsula, down in Fizi Territory.

The Ubwari Peninsula juts into Lake Tanganyika, south of Baraka and just north of Kazimia. In the month of March, battles continued between Amani Leo troops and Mai Mai Yakutumba on the Ubwari. Thus, accessibility to the villages in the Ubwari has been limited for humanitarian agents, and there is very little information on refugee movements and civilian casualties coming from the area. Fighting near Kazimia has resulted in at least 1 reported civilian casualty. Last year SOS FED closed the reception center in Kazimia, which was the right decision, given the current proximity of combat.

There are concerns about the lack of protection in the area around Kilembwe, in the Haut Plateau, where the FLDR is targeting the civilian population. Many of the mass rapes committed by the FDLR this year happened in the vicinity of Kilembwe and Kilimba. Supposedly there are plans for a larger Amani Leo operation to head into the Kilembwe area to drive out the FDLR. Right now, MONUSCO patrols only reach Kilicha. On March 14, more than 40 civilians were robbed by the FDLR on their way to the market in Kilicha.
The Mai Mai is waylaying and robbing travelers on the road from Uvira to Baraka, near the villages of Elila and Kabondozi. On March 16, a vehicle belonging to the NGO TEARFUND was ambushed and robbed near Mukindje, about 15 km from Baraka. In these incidents, there were no reported injuries.

In March, more FNL activity has been reported, throwing in another wrench in the machine. The FNL (Forces Nationales pour la Libération) is a Burundian rebel movement that is opposed to the current government in Burundi. In Uvira Territory, combat between the FNL and the FARDC on March 12 disrupted agricultural activity near Kiliba; when farmers hear that there is fighting close by, they become reluctant to go to their fields. In Fizi, as of March 15 it was reported that over 200 FNL troops were camped out in the forest of Lulambo, near the village of Kabembwe.

Now, we return to Uvira Territory, for a demonstration of just how difficult it is to negotiate the security situation in South Kivu. Due to increased incidents of armed bandits waylaying travelers in the Runingu area, the Pakistani Battalion of MONUSCO (PAKBATT) stationed in Uvira Territory attempted to create a Temporary Operations Base (TOB) in Kashatu. However, they soon abandoned their plans, due to a lack of support from the local authorities. Apparently, the local authorities wanted more and more money from MONUSCO for “permission” to put a TOB there, even though this would have increased security for the civilian population. Again, another demonstration of just how difficult it is, even for the UN, to stabilize the security situation in a region rife with corruption.

In February, Médecins Sans Frontières released a briefing on the “dramatic increase in mass rape and violence” in Fizi Territory. There are worries that the conflict in Fizi is entering into a “new phase of brutality”. In recent years, MSF saw a decline in reported incidents of sexual violence in Fizi; however, this trend is starting to reverse itself. The situation of women in Fizi, which has never been good, is getting worse.

On March 13, I wrote an entry about the cases of mass rape that have been rising since the beginning of the year. Please refer to that entry for a more complete picture of this “new phase of brutality”. Stay tuned for more.


Posted Mar 24th, 2011

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