Congo: Militias force thousands to flee

Gangs of militia have attacked five villages in south-eastern Congo, raping girls as young as eight and forcing more than 1,000 people to flee, a UN official said today.

Gangs of militia have attacked five villages in south-eastern Congo, raping girls as young as eight and forcing more than 1,000 people to flee, a UN official said today.

Gunmen from the Mayi-Mayi militia attacked the villages in Katanga province over the past two weeks, burning houses, looting crops and raping 15 women and girls, said Anne Edgerton, an official with the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The spate of rapes took place May 25 in the fishing village of Sonsa – located about 137 miles south-west of the Lake Tanganyika town of Kalemie – following a disagreement between the village's 100 residents and their local chief, Edgerton said.

The chief called in the local police, who were accompanied by scores of Mayi-Mayi militia, who began rampaging the village and raping, Edgerton said.

Residents said militia raped at least eight girls under 15-years-old, including some as young as eight. The eight girls are still missing, believed to be hiding in the bush or kidnapped by militia, Edgerton said.

The residents fled 37 miles south to Monono, where they arrived totally naked after militia stripped them of their clothing to prevent them from running fast.

“This is what these people have to swallow in these areas,” said Edgerton. “They’re constantly living with trauma and fear.”

The United Nations is sending a humanitarian team to Monono tomorrow to assist the villagers. UNICEF will be providing post-rape kits to the women.

Edgerton also said over 1,000 other villagers in the Monono area fled last week, when militiamen invaded four villages in the area, burning many huts and looting crops.

More than 1,000 displaced people fled to the town of Mpiana, about 90 miles south of Monono. They are currently taking refuge in schools and abandoned buildings, Edgerton said.

Fighting between militia and attacks on civilians are still commonplace in eastern Congo, despite the end to the country’s devastating 1998-2002 war, which killed nearly four million people, mostly from war-induced hunger and sickness, aid groups say.

A transitional government was established in 2003, but its authority has little influence over the lawless east.

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