Atrocities committed by armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are part of a systematic pattern to disrupt lives, instil fear and create havoc according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR which expressed alarm over the situation.
Over 2 000 civilians were killed in three eastern provinces last year in attacks mainly attributed to armed groups, agency partners reported.
Violence continued into this year. The most recent incident in late January saw two men killed and six others seriously injured following an incursion onto a site for forcibly displaced people in Masisi Territory, North Kivu province.
UNHCR spokesperson Babor Baloch said three people from the Kivuye displacement site, supported by the agency, were kidnapped in raids by an armed group a week ahead of the attack.
The armed group imposed a curfew in the area and visits homes to force residents to make “security” payments.
“UNHCR and its partners heard numerous testimonies from people who survive this targeted violence. Between December 2020 and January 2021, at least seven incursions by armed groups into five different sites were reported in Masisi Territory,” Baloch said in Geneva.
In eastern DRC, UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) support 22 sites, home to over 88 000 displaced people. Thousands more are living in what UNHCR terms “spontaneous sites,” or in host communities.
“Attacks by armed groups are carried out on suspicion of collaboration with other groups or the Congolese security forces. Some sites are under threat from multiple armed groups. Civilians are trapped in confrontations between different groups,” Baloch said.
UNHCR received reports of armed groups forcibly occupying schools and homes and attacking health centres. Some impose illegal taxes on villagers who want to access their farms, cutting them off from their only source of food and income.
“While the Congolese army’s military operations against militia groups are more successful than in the past, the armed forces do not have the capacity to maintain control of areas they secure. This leaves space for belligerents to reclaim areas and impose themselves on the local population,” he said.