Civilians suffer in DRC conflict

Congolese displaced amid military offensive to "pacify" the nation's east.

    Government troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), helped by UN peacekeepers, have launched an operation to pacify the mountain region in the east of the country.

    The aim of the security operation Amani Leo, or Peace Today, is to eradicate armed groups in the volatile region, which is at the centre of one of the world’s deadliest conflicts.

    Less than a week after it begun, the offensive in South and North Kivu has already resulted in attacks on civilians and people have been forced from their homes.

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    Tuisenye Saisengaa, a woman taking shelter in a displaced people's camp, fled with her children after their village became a battlefield.

    "The government forces came to attack the bandits who terrorised us every night. The fighting was very heavy. We then decided to flee for our lives," she said.

    The three-month-long campaign is facing a daunting task in battling fighters roaming the forests.

    Rwandan rebels, ethnic militias and deserters from the government army are taking advantage of the hilly terrain, using the area as a hideout.

    Reprisal attacks against civilians by the armed groups are common.

    Bandu Kaberuka, a displaced farmer, says: "There is no peace. We are getting tired of being attacked daily. We used to flee to the forest before but now there is nowhere to escape. The conflict is everywhere."

    Natural wealth

    Al Jazeera's Mohammed Adow, reporting from Masisi district, says the conflict is not about power or politics.

    "The natural wealth that lies beneath Congo’s soil is the fuel that keeps the conflict burning and a reason why the killings, rape and forced displacement continue at such an appalling rate," he says.

    "We used to flee to the forest before but now there is nowhere to escape. The conflict is everywhere."

    Bandu Kaberuka,
    displaced farmer

    "The rebels use income from the mineral to fund the conflict."

    The Amani Leo operation comes after a controversial UN mission, trying to defeat the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), ended at the end of last year.

    The mission had been criticised for lending too much support to the Congolese army which is accused of widespread rape and killings. Such crimes are allegedly also committed by the FDLR.

    UN troops were first deployed following the 1998-2003 civil war in which millions of people are said to have died.

    The FDLR are thought to have up to 7,000 fighters. They say they are fighting to defend fellow Rwandan Hutus, a minority tribe in the area. 

    They are sometimes backed by an unknown number of rebels from Uganda, including the Lord's Resistance Army. Plenty of deserters from the national army have also joined the cause.

    More than one million civilians have been displaced by the fighting over the last year.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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