Since a September attack on Nyankunde ("Wilderness walk," Oct. 5, 2002) the situation for residents from northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo has not improved.
Up to half a million Congolese have been made homeless by fierce fighting among at least eight militias, which began attacks last fall at a Christian hospital run by overseas mission groups. The killings from those attacks eventually numbered over 60,000. The brutality of the attacks-over 1,000 killed in the first hours at Nyankunde-were reminiscent of similar tribal conflicts in nearby Rwanda eight years ago, where nearly a million died.
Militias in northeastern Congo are vying for control of the Ituri, Oriental, and South Kivu Provinces-areas rich in diamonds, gold, timber, and coltan (an ore used in cell phones). Rwandan and Ugandan army units are using the militias as proxies to keep a foothold on territory they technically retreated from in recent peace negotiations.
At a medical facility near Oicha, where villagers and Nyankunde medical workers fled from the fighting, children huddled near a fire. According to Chris Hamilton, Congo relief coordinator for Africa Inland Mission (AIM), the children have "borne witness to atrocities no human being should ever endure."
Six of the children watched as their parents (the father was chaplain at Nyankunde Evangelical Medical Center) were murdered during the seven-day massacre. "These young people, ranging in age from 6 to 18, somehow managed to escape the horror," said Mrs. Hamilton. Most of the children trekked 100 miles through jungle to reach Oicha. But they are not unscarred, and many spend the day staring blankly past relief workers who want to help.
AIM and other groups are focusing on the immediate needs of food, shelter, and medicine. Eventually the orphans and others made homeless by the attacks will need different kinds of long-term aid to survive. Mrs. Hamilton said AIM would seek "to draw alongside the national church" to channel aid to victims. Congolese churches in the Oicha area organized prayer services as thousands of displaced began to arrive. They have already taken in some of the homeless and orphaned. The chaplain's children likely will be cared for by a 20-year-old uncle.