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Forgotten conflict

"Forgotten conflict" Continued...

Issue: "Saving Isaac," Nov. 10, 2007

Other monitoring groups, namely Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Doctors Without Borders, are finding similar stories. In an October report on North Kivu, HRW chronicled the story of one rape counselor. She was carrying a woman, a rape victim who had a piece of wood inserted in her vagina, on her back. When the woman died, rebel forces forced the counselor to bury the body.

"When I finished, they said that they would rape me," she told HRW. "I told them, if you want to rape me, let me first pray. There were eight of them. I prayed. When I stopped praying, four refused to rape me, but the other four said that they would not leave without raping me. They raped me, they hit me, for six hours, from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m."

With the risk of more such atrocities growing, the United States-at $500 million in aid one of Congo's largest donors-cannot afford to ignore a brewing conflict in the heart of Africa. During Kabila's White House visit, President Bush urged him to forgo a planned offensive against Nkunda. In North Kivu, Lavand'homme-who sees emergency needs 24/7-doubts the nudge from Washington is enough.

Congo's armed menaces

North Kivu is the center of the latest fighting, and the year-long fighting has displaced 370,000. Congo's conflict is complex because multiple armed groups roam the east. Opposing Hutu and Tutsi militias are some of the main ones, and their activities threaten to provoke Rwanda, scene of the 1994 genocide, and other neighbors into a larger regional war. All groups commit rapes, beatings, killings, and other atrocities.

The Congolese Army: The weak state force is not as disciplined or well-trained as some rebel groups. Troops rape women and force civilians to carry their supplies. According to the 17,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission, the army committed 40 percent of the human-rights abuses in the second half of 2006.

FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda): A Hutu armed group made up of former Hutu genocide perpetrators, army members, and Rwandan refugees. Kinshasa has forced thousands to leave Congo, leaving a weakened few thousand. But they still attack locals, frighten Tutsi refugees from returning, and irritate Rwanda. In 2005, the UN sanctioned leader Ignace Murwanashyaka for violating an arms embargo.

The forces of Laurent Nkunda: The former psychology student still looks bookish, but he is a career soldier. He is a renegade general whose home is North Kivu, where his forces have caused much of the latest violence. He wants to see the FDLR out of Congo and some 45,000 Congolese Tutsi refugees in Rwandan camps return to their lands.

The Mai-Mai: The loose group of local community militias that align along tribal lines. In the past, some Mai-Mai have fought against Rwandan troops and allied with the FDLR.

Sources: The International Crisis Group/Global Security/BBC

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