Angry and traumatized survivors of massacres by the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which has killed nearly 1,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), today sought shelter, food, medicine – and justice – from the top United Nations relief official.
“The level of casual brutality, the callous disregard for life and the treatment of women and children in particular are truly horrifying,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said on meeting the victims in Doruma town in north-eastern DRC. “The villagers have suffered dreadfully at the hands of the LRA.”
Mr. Holmes, on the third day of a visit to eastern DRC, met with Congolese army commanders and the Ugandan People’s Defence Force, who are undertaking joint operations against the LRA, to emphasize the importance of placing the need to protect civilians at the centre of planning and operations, and of better communication about the risks to civilians and humanitarians.
The Christmas massacres by the LRA triggered a wave of displacement from the villages around Doruma, a small border town seven kilometres from Sudan, tripling the population to 18,000. Attacks in this area left 364 dead with many more unaccounted for. LRA-related deaths in Orientale province are believed to have exceeded 850 since Christmas.
UN agencies and partners are working with the local authorities, the military forces in the area, and the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC, known by its French acronym MONUC, to expand humanitarian assistance and step up efforts to protect the local population. These efforts are constrained by the huge area where the LRA is operating, the difficult terrain and isolated locations, poor communications, and the threat still posed by the LRA, including on major roads.
The survivors asked Mr. Holmes to ensure the arrest of LRA leader Joseph Kony, who has continually reneged on pledges to sign a peace agreement and has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“For those within the LRA who feel sickened by the raping, injury and murder of civilians, I urge you to lay down your arms,” Mr. Holmes said. “These innocent people have nothing to do with you and have done nothing to hurt you. The burden of the crimes of the LRA should not grow heavier.”
The LRA has been present in the area around Duru in Haut Uele district since 2005, but had mostly refrained from attacks on civilians, particularly while the peace talks continued.
However, between December 2007 and August 2008, LRA rebels committed grave attacks on populations in DRC, Central African Republic and South Sudan, killing, pillaging, raping and abducting adults and children. Last December the Governments of DRC, Sudan and Uganda launched joint military operations against the LRA in Haut Uele.
Meanwhile, humanitarian agencies continue to tend more than 40,000 people uprooted by deadly LRA attacks in the Western and Central Equatoria states of South Sudan, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).