Saturday, 8 November 2008

The most recent reports from Goma

Saturday Nov 8th

Officially there may be a cease-fire in place, but things don't get any easier for all the displaced people along the Congo/Rwanda border. News is almost impossible to get here in Gitarama; the official Rwandan newspaper reports virtually nothing from the front line. Instead, it froths with fury at the merest suggestion of Rwandan complicity with Nkunda. What you read below comes from the BBC site, which I gratefully acknowledge.

The U N forces have installed themselves as a protective barrier between the rebel forces of Nkunda and the town of Goma, and have threatened to shoot any rebel force which tries to take the town, Their mandate does allow them to shoot, so this time they mean business. This is fine for the people of Goma, and also for those of us in Rwanda close to the Congolese border. But it absolutely doesn't help the refugees. They are huddled in a camp between the rebels and the U N, and their flimsy plastic and banana leaf shelters will become the front line if there is renewed fighting.

Some aid agencies are back in the field working, but many others are under orders from their headquarters to stay put in Goma or Gisenyi until things calm down. The refugees are acutely short of food, water, shelter. There is wholesale looting, by just about every single group of people involved in the fighting, of the possessions they have left behind - household goods, animals, crops. None of the refugees have reserves of cash to buy food etc; they are subsistence farmers living off their little plots of land. If they can't get to their land, they will starve.

There are now acres of media coverage of the situation, but I have chosen one photo and two eye witness accounts to show you what is happening. While we may heave a sigh of relief that the live firing has stopped, the ceasefire means slow death from starvation and disease for anything up to 200,000 people.


"Congolese mother Anatasia Ndaonduye, 30, tells how fighting in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo forced her and her family to flee on foot from their home in Kibumba to a camp for displaced people in Kibati.
The fighting began near our home in the middle of the night. It was 0300 [local time/0100 GMT] when we heard the first gunshots. There was a lot of gunfire and 'mabombi' - explosions [shelling]. Some people were caught in the middle of the fighting. I saw them die; and after seeing them I knew we had to run away or else we would also die with them.

At least it happened in the night because we were all together, sleeping in our home, and so we were all in the same place and so we could all leave together. My husband and our four children and myself left our home.
We all ran helping and carrying our children - there were very many of us running away.

The soldiers told us it was Laurent Nkunda fighting against the government but I cannot be sure. I do not know exactly who it was because we did not see them all. The only ones we saw were soldiers from the national army. There were so many of them passing by our homes that night. There was no time to pack or even pick up anything to take with us because we were caught unaware by the war beginning again. I left everything else.
We ran through the night in the dark for a long time. The road was bad - it was rocky; and we suffered until we arrived at this camp. It is very far from our village - we walked about 20km. We arrived with nothing but ourselves but I thank God that my family are all together. We are sleeping outside. It is raining a lot. Life is desperate at the camp; we are going through a very difficult time. We keep being told that they [aid agencies] are bringing us food but up till now it hasn't arrived and so we haven't got any food.

The father of my children has been going to look for some work to do in Goma [almost 10km away] and so if he finds work he buys some food for us but if he doesn't, we just sleep hungry.

I feel terrible that there was nothing I was able to bring with me. We left everything - all we owned; and now we are being told that thieves went to our house and stole all our belongings. I am a tailor; a dressmaker. But not any more. I left my machine at our home - my machine that I valued so much - and so if it has been stolen I cannot call myself a tailor.

What I fear most is an outbreak of disease because there are so many of us staying here, all together and so close to one another.

The other thing I really fear is rape because we are sleeping all over. The army could rape us women. Other men could also rape us.

I ask those who are able to, to help mediate so that there can be peace. Peace is our main priority. I would also appreciate some help for all people like me who have lost our belongings. We want to be able to leave these camps and return home and take care of our children.
Of everything though, the only thing I am asking for is peace. Peace is my first priority. "


"Drive from Goma across the rock lava-strewn road courtesy of a volcano that smokes ominously over the town and swiftly you are in the lush green Congolese countryside. We passed the last UN base and few minutes later the car jolts across the rocky earth into Kabati camp.

A curious crowd surges round. Women in vivid Congolese wrappers, babies strapped to their backs; dusty children in tattered clothes. What is the main problem here, I want to know. Hunger, they respond unanimously. We are hungry.

When aid agencies like Save the Children were forced to pull out of Goma because of insecurity, the lifelines to these people were cut. We are trying to get back there as quickly as possible but in the meantime many people have not eaten for days. How were they surviving? Woman were grubbing vegetables from the surrounding countryside, or they relying on the kindness of neighbours.

Shelter here is also a real problem. Many in Kabati have been displaced many times over - a consequence of the warfare that has engulfed eastern Congo for more than a decade. This time, some have at least managed to grab the tarpaulins from their previous Internally Displaced People's Camp before fleeing the advance of the rebels. These sheets have been strung across rickety frameworks of branches or pinned to the side of buildings. A young woman called Bauriki showed me her makeshift home. A muddy floor, a bundle of clothing - it's hardly the kind of place you would want six children to sleep in.

Fear is a another factor. Do you feel safe I asked. No - they shook their heads emphatically. Not far away behind the low lying hills are the rebels. If the negotiations fail and if the ceasefire does not hold, then Kabati camp is on their way into Goma.

Save the Children is launching a major appeal to help the displaced of this conflict. Children are already suffering for diarrhoea, malaria and skin diseases. We are also trying to help families who have become split up in the chaos and to reunite children with their parents again. But their needs are huge and time is short

As the sun sinks beneath the horizon my colleagues nudge me and tell me it is time to get going.
We can get in our car and return to the relative safety of Goma but the the people in the camp don't have that choice. Women and children will be huddled in the fields tonight wondering if tomorrow they will find something to eat.

Children in the 21st century should not be living this way. "

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