The conflict, and its effects on civilians, is not quite abating in Fizi Territory.
The village of Mboko is situated about halfway down on the road between Uvira and Baraka. Mboko is sandwiched between Lake Tangayika, immediately to the east, and the mountains of the Moyen Plateau, which rise up to the west. The area of the Moyen/Haut Plateau to the west of Mboko is infested with armed groups, most notably Mai Mai militias, the FDLR, and Burundian FNL rebels.
SOS FED has one center in Mboko, providing services to survivors of sexual violence. The Mboko center has seen some rough days, especially when the surrounding area was a battleground between the Congolese military and various non-state armed groups in the mid-late 2000s. The Mboko center staff had noted that starting in end of 2010, the situation around Mboko was relatively calm due to FARDC actions that pushed the zone-of-combat away from the main road. However, that is now starting to change.
On August 3rd, armed men stopped and robbed 2 vehicles in the village of Ilila, about 15 minutes north of Mboko. In the incident, 7 women were raped; these women went to the MSF hospital in Baraka. There is no official confirmation as to the affiliation of the armed perpetrators, but the word around the area is that these men belong to a Mai Mai militia based in the Moyen Plateau just above the area.
On August 15, armed men (again, presumed Mai Mai) attacked civilians working in their fields near the village of Senza, just south of Mboko. About 13 women reported being raped in the attacks. SOS FED Mboko center manager Mariamu Bashishibe tells me she and her staff are making all effort to reach the survivors and provide them with assistance. In addition, several NGOs in the area, along with local authorities, are working together to help those who have fallen victim to these attacks.
In the month of August, the SOS FED center in Mboko has received two women from a village near Ilila that were attacked and raped in their homes by presumed Mai Mai assailants.
There are many more reports of attacks in the area, with rumors of alarmingly high numbers of rapes, but I am waiting for confirmation from several sources before I report on these other incidents. Please stay tuned for more in the coming weeks.
In general, it appears as though attacks on civilians on the Uvira-Baraka road are starting to pick up, particularly close to Mboko. According to people I spoke with in Mboko, the Mai Mai have successfully infiltrated the villages and seem to raid at will. What is the possible reason for this escalation in rape, pillage, and violence? The Mboko center staff connects the escalation to the general reduction of FARDC troops in the area since the braçage process started earlier this year for units based in Mboko. Earlier this year, the Mboko-area FARDC units went into braçage for training/re-equipment/re-organization. However, their units have returned back to Mboko in fewer numbers than before. While the reduction of total troop numbers in the Kivus is a positive change, especially considering the massive amount of human rights violations committed by the FARDC, the continued presence of armed groups such as the Mai Mai, FDLR, and FNL means that civilians will continue to suffer as non-state armed elements simply move into areas left empty by the FARDC.
The confused FARDC presence, paired with an almost total lack of effective MONUSCO troop presence in Fizi Territory, is making things rather easy for armed groups that wish to prey upon the civilian population. While the rest of Congo is supposed to be moving forward in terms of peace, security, and stability, Fizi Territory remains stuck.
Posted By WALTER JAMES
Posted Aug 18th, 2011