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Rape on the rise in North Kivu, as fighting displaces 70,000

KINSHASA, 10 Feb 2006 (IRIN) - Incidents of rape have risen sharply along the Kanyabayonga-Kayna road in the Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu Province, where fighting between the army and renegade soldiers has displaced at least 70,000 people, according to humanitarian workers.

"We are witnessing a quadruple increase in rape cases in the Kanyabayonga-Kayna axis this week, where victims have been treated by [Medecines Sans Frontieres] MSF-France," Patrick Lavand'homme, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Goma, the provincial capital, said on Thursday.

Kanyabayonga, Kibirizi and Kayna are towns in North Kivu's Lubero Territory. Those blamed for the rapes are suspected to members of the army and the renegades.

Confirming the increase in the number of rape cases reported to their mobile clinics, the head of the MSF mission in Kayna, Jean Guy Vataux, said, "The number of rape victims has reached 23 especially, in the Kibirizi area."

Fighting erupted mid-January in the province between elements of the Congolese army and renegades, displacing tens of thousands of civilians.

International advocacy group, Amnesty International, issued a report on Wednesday accusing the army and the renegades of rape, extortion and other human rights violations in North Kivu and in the province of Katanga, where Mayi-Mayi militias, former allies of the government, are now pitted against the regular army.

Some of the rape cases reported involve underage girls. MSF said the 23 rape victims receiving treatment at Kanyabayonga were among some the latest displaced civilians, 35,000 of whom arrived in the town last week.

OCHA said another group of the displaced had sought refuge in the towns of Rutshuru, Kirumba and Kayna. Local families have accommodated the majority of the displaced.

"We are trying to double the supply of free water to the whole population of Kanyabayonga because the arrival of the displaced has created a water and food shortage," Vataux said.

He said the problem had been exacerbated because the Kibirizi population already had a high number of malnourished children. Kibirizi residents did not have access to MSF aid for three weeks because of insecurity. However, MSF has been providing free medical aid to the displaced for a week now.

"The highest number of patients come in with respiratory diseases and malaria patients come in second," Vitaux said.

He added that 40 of the 1,500 patients treated by MSF had been transferred to the hospital in Kayna, which is some 12 kilometers north of Kanyabayonga.

Meanwhile, more displaced continue to arrive in small groups at Kanyabayonga from the Kibirizi periphery, the head of OCHA in the town of Beni, Ibrahima Diarra, said.

The UN World Food Programme and NGOs such as Solidarity are distributing food and non-food items to the displaced.

The UN Mission in the Congo, MONUC, reported that calm had returned to the Rutshuru area but that the situation was still tense. However, the small groups of displaced that continue to arrive say fighting continues.

Some 1,400 insurgents surrendered to army on 3 February during a visit to North Kivu by Defence Minister Adolphe Onusumba. These have been grouped at a site to await integration into the army or demobilisation. UN-supported Radio Okapi has reported that more insurgents have joined in the fighting and replaced those who surrendered their weapons.

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