At 8:30 in the morning Kakani, head nurse in the intensive care ward at Nyankunde Evangelical Medical Center, had finished early morning rounds and was preparing to go to morning worship service when he heard sporadic gunfire and screaming. Through an open window, he saw dozens of women and children running toward the Congo mission compound from fields where they had been working since daybreak. Behind them were about 7,000 soldiers; they were rebel militiamen from the neighboring Ngiti tribe, their faces plastered in paint and leaf rings encircling their heads.
As Kakani (who is known by this single name) watched in horror, the militiamen brandished rifles, bayonets, machetes, and knives. "They killed anyone in their path-women, children, and the elderly," he later told Baptist missionary physician William Clemmer.
Mission workers say the Ngiti attackers killed 1,000 people in the first hours of a September attack on Nyankunde. Across northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, brutal tribal massacres are increasing much as they did in nearby Rwanda in 1994, where 800,000 died before outside intervention brought the bloodletting to an end. Like the Rwandan killings that began not far from here, in northeastern Congo both numbers dead and savage brutality are increasing-with little outside attention.
UN Security Council members met on Oct. 31 to hear about the rise of ethnic slaughter in Congo. They urged neighboring Uganda to use its troops in the area to protect civilians. Ugandan troops have been on alert in the town of Bunia 28 miles east of Nyankunde at the Security Council's request. But those orders make no sense in light of what Security Council members heard in the closed-door session. Deputy UN Congo relief coordinator Carolyn McAskie told council members that the Ugandan troops are contributing to the violence by siding with certain tribal factions and even participating in the killings.
Ms. McAskie reported that 60,000 people have died in the region as a result of fighting between Hema and Lendu militias. The Ngiti who attacked Nyankunde support the Lendu tribe. Militias "have been able to kill, rape, and mutilate in an environment of impunity," she said, leading to "a cycle of violence and retribution."
The UN has relied on Ugandan soldiers even though they have been complicit in Congo's four-year civil war, which has resulted in 2 million deaths. The conflict, now Africa's largest, erupted when rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda tried to topple Congo's Kinshasa government of one-time rebel leader Laurent Kabila. He in turn received support from Zimbabwean, Angolan, and Namibian troops. After a bodyguard shot Mr. Kabila in 2001, his government passed to 30-year-old son Joseph.
Over 50,000 troops from other African nations have taken part in the civil war, splitting in two Africa's third largest country. Most troops pulled out as peace talks between Mr. Kabila and the rebels began in earnest just last month. The two sides appear to be close to a power-sharing deal that would keep the younger Kabila in power but would eventually lead to the country's first democratic elections after over 30 years of dictatorship. In response, Rwanda in recent weeks says it has completely withdrawn troops, while Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia pledged to do so by Nov. 9. Uganda will leave 1,000 troops at the UN's request in Ituri Province, the region that includes Nyankunde.
Peace in theory at the table, however, does not equal peace on the ground. The pullouts have created a power vacuum, provoking ongoing bloodbaths between tribes. Troops that remain contribute at best a false sense of security. Staff at Nyankunde hospital said the contingent of government soldiers who were sent to protect them fled at the first sign of fighting. "The UN has not 'rushed to assist,'" said Brook Ford, a missionary at Nyankunde, as initial reports suggested.
But workers at the mission did not hesitate to act. Kakani, who is from the Hema tribe targeted by Ngiti fighters, quickly realized that the mission compound-a regional center for Christian activity run by several evangelical mission agencies-would also be attacked. The Ngiti scorned the hospital for its history of treating people of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds.
Kakani closed windows and barricaded the intensive-care ward. Patients who could move were hidden under beds and in rafters. Ted Sugimoto, a physician on staff from Africa Inland Mission, at the same time hid patients in the orthopedic center. Hospital staff laid many on the floor to keep them safely away from stray bullets that peppered walls and windows.
Despite their efforts, the Ngiti went through the 250-bed hospital, killing in their beds all patients who resembled Hemas. The dead included "elderly disabled, adults, and even a baby strapped to his mother's back," according to Mr. Sugimoto. He saw one of the hospital chaplains tortured before he was killed. Another pastor, his wife, and infant were killed soon after singing Swahili hymns with departing workers. The Ngiti moved house to house, where many hospital staff had fled, slitting throats of victims and throwing their bodies outside. They looted homes and then burned them to the ground.
The next day militias broke through the barred doors of the intensive-care ward and killed Hema patients, decapitating some in bed. They marched Kakani, along with nine members of his family, to a makeshift prison set up in a house in the hospital compound. Along the way he recognized one of the assailants-a young Ngiti man he said he had "fed and nursed to health" in the same hospital ward.
Kakani and his family spent three days locked in the house along with over 100 other Hemas. Their captors refused to give them food and water. According to Mr. Clemmer, who visited the area several weeks later, "At night soldiers would enter and mock the crowd who were pleading for water. They were given empty cups to drink their own urine." Many, including Kakani, were beaten.
Late at night as heat wore off and the soldiers departed, those held in the house gathered for prayer. Two pastors were among the group, according to Mr. Clemmer, and led them with psalms, singing, and recountings from Daniel of the lion's den and the fiery furnace. The Ngiti gunmen released Kakani and his family after they discovered his wife had a distant Ngiti relative. The rest of the prisoners slowly perished.
The siege at Nyankunde lasted seven days. On the second day the attackers held missionary wives and their children at gunpoint while they emptied their homes and demanded money. Following tough and intense negotiations, the mission organizations were permitted to evacuate their staff and some African personnel. Mission Aviation Fellowship, which maintains a hangar at the hospital compound, used its two planes along with an Africa Inland Mission plane from Nairobi to assist in the evacuation.
Other hospital workers and patients fled into the jungle, eventually making their way through a rainforest to a sister hospital in Oicha over 100 miles away. They lived off rainwater and sugarcane during a trek that took nearly two weeks. Longtime Nyankunde missionary Maryen Baisley-at 76 years old-refused evacuation and chose instead to go by land with the Congolese for their march from Nyankunde. She accompanied the displaced-whose numbers at one point swelled to 1,700. She now is staying with colleagues in Entebbe.
Only 650 of the displaced group arrived in Oicha. Hundreds broke from the group to stay with relatives in other villages; hundreds also are believed to have perished. The UN estimates that more than 500,000 of the area's 4.5 million people were driven from their homes. In addition to Nyankunde, 14 health centers have been destroyed and the water distribution system in Bunia has been sabotaged.
The number of displaced at Oicha has fluctuated-with some dying after their arrival-but remains around 1,000. Mission groups who worked at Nyankunde are helping the homeless with food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. Those groups work under a French umbrella group established in 1964 called CME, Centre Medical Evangelique or Evangelical Medical Center, a combined effort of seven mission societies and seven Congolese denominations. The overseas groups include Africa Inland Mission, Mission Aviation Fellowship, WEC International, Conservative Baptist (Japan), Interchurch Medical Assistance, and CMML (Christian Missions in Many Lands).
Some members of Nyankunde's hospital staff are finding work at the Oicha hospital. "Those that can have fled the country completely," said Miss Ford, who is now in the United States.
Nyankunde workers who remained in the province say the attacks by militias are continuing, even though Nyankunde and the surrounding area are totally deserted. Hospital buildings remain but all equipment and supplies have been destroyed. After 75 years of mission work there, the mission organizations don't have concrete plans to resume the medical mission but don't want to abandon the field. "These are our brothers and sisters in Christ," said AIM international director Lanny Arensen. "This crisis is far greater than the Congolese church can bear alone."