- October 2, 2008
This morning, I interviewed Fr. Benoit Kinalegu, the President of the Dungu Catholic Diocese Justice and Peace Commission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), about LRA crimes in northeastern DR Congo.
Fr. Kinalegu has led efforts to bring the world’s attention to the impact that the LRA is now having on families in northeastern DRC, especially following the recent abduction of more than 90 5th and 6th grade children from their classrooms. This is one of the world’s most remote areas, and so far these atrocities are getting only a fraction of the media coverage they deserve.
Read below for the full interview with Fr. Kinalegu, translated from French:
Can you tell us about how the LRA has affected communities in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo?
The LRA has impacted our community on many different levels. I would like to stress that the latest attacks were the worst that we have experienced. On 17 September, six villages were simultaneously attacked. The LRA used the same method in attacking all of the villages. The LRA surrounded each village, then pillaged, then abducted people and took them into the bush, along with the food and supplies they stole. Before they left, they burned most of the village. They also burned anything they looted that they didn’t need.
On 19 September, two people abducted in Duru escaped from the LRA, and told a most disturbing story. These two students were taken to the bush. The adults that were abducted with them were killed by being hit in the back of the neck with axes and machetes. The younger abductees were taken to another location for training.
These LRA attacks forced much of our population to flee the area. Some fled into Southern Sudan, and others into the area surrounding the town of Dungu, where Congolese and UN military forces have recently been deployed. But now, Dungu is overwhelmed by the influx of people. And I don’t even know the condition of those that fled to Sudan.
This situation has caused a new humanitarian crisis amongst the people that were forced to flee their homes. They don’t have enough food. There are health problems, because there are no services. And there isn’t water or shelter either. School has just begun again, and displaced students cannot return to class. Neither the government nor humanitarian groups are present to assist us.
There could still be more people who stayed in the villages where the LRA attacked, but no one has gone to see if they also need help, because it is so unsafe.
Were the LRA committing atrocities against these communities prior to this latest attack?
Before 17 September, our communities were already afraid of the LRA, because they would come in and loot and pillage, and we didn’t know who they were. The LRA had already abducted around 50 people, and killed at least nine more. There had also been incidences of LRA raping local women.
How are the LRA surviving in northeastern DRC?
That question is really hard to answer because our communities do not have direct contact with the LRA. But I think they produce their own food, because when they pillage the villages, they often take farming equipment and seeds. I think they might also be poaching elephants and rhinos, because since the LRA came, we haven’t seen as many.
What is the Congolese military doing to protect people from the LRA?
Before last year, the national army was not present in our area. The recent deployment of the Congolese military to Dungu is the first time they have been in our area. We are afraid that they will commit abuses against local communities, as they have in other parts of the country, but so far that hasn’t happened. But they aren’t doing anything at all to actually protect the population, as evidenced by these recent attacks.
Last week Congolese civilians affected by the LRA attacks led a demonstration to protest the lack of protection from the rebels, during which UN buildings and personnel were attacked. Why is the local population frustrated with the UN?
The population reacted the way they did because the UN forces are not doing what they said they would do. When they arrived [in 2007], they informed the community that they were deploying to protect people from the LRA. But they didn’t do anything when the LRA attacked. The demonstration was also against the Congolese government, who is also not doing anything to protect us from the LRA.
How many people were displaced by the recent attacks? Reports have ranged from 17,000 to 75,000.
It’s very hard to know how much of the population has been displaced. They did not all flee to one area, but dispersed in many directions. According to the local government, there are 51,000 around Dungu, and another 2,000 near another village. The exact number is not important – what is important is that there is a serious humanitarian problem, and people must know about it and respond.
Do you know if any aid organizations are planning to disburse assistance to the people who have been affected by the LRA?
I don’t know of any organizations that plan to come. [Catholic aid agency] CARITAS has arrived to conduct an assessment, and the UN has opened up an office, but so far no one is providing assistance.
What message do you wish to send to U.S. and U.N. leaders about how this situation can be resolved?
I have three urgent requests for both the U.N. and U.S. First, regional militaries must be mobilized to neutralize the LRA and protect us from this group. Second, there should be international solidarity with the thousands of displaced people in Dungu, who are in need of relief. Third, the leaders of the LRA should be arrested for these terrible crimes, so that they can no longer terrorize our people.
Is there anything else you would like to share or ask?
Since Resolve Uganda is also supportive of human rights work, I ask that you invite people to support us. Our organization is not equipped to deal with this situation. We are in need of resources to do better investigations into what is happening, and to make sure the world is informed about these atrocities.
**Resolve will provide information to anyone interested in supporting the work of the Dungu Justice and Peace Commission with equipment or funds to ensure it can continue its crucial work of documenting what’s taking place and supporting people whose lives have been uprooted by the LRA in the DR Congo. Please e-mail info@theResolve.org if you would like to help.