People in Congo fear for their safety due to LRA rebels – Oxfam


Ninety per cent of people in areas affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the Democratic Republic of Congo said they feel less safe this year than they did last year, according to a new protection survey undertaken by Oxfam.

The survey shows residents of eastern provinces are left feeling abandoned, isolated and vulnerable. It is Oxfam’s fifth such annual protection assessment in eastern Congo since 2007, but the first time that such a comprehensive survey has been conducted in the areas affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army.

In the region of Haut-Uélé in Province Orientale near the border with Sudan, 62 per cent feel less secure, 28 per cent feel security threats remain the same, and only 10 per cent feel that their security has improved.

As part of the survey, Oxfam and 15 local partner NGOs interviewed 1,705 people from 45 communities in Province Orientale, North and South Kivu, in April and May on their security and protection in a context of widespread presence of multiple armed actors.

The communities surveyed painted a grim picture of a continuing cycle of poverty and violence, Oxfam said. People said that they feel completely abandoned and believe that neither their government nor UN peacekeepers care about their security. In seven out of nine communities surveyed in LRA areas, UN peacekeepers were said to be not patrolling enough in the most important places, such as in fields and roads to markets. Oxfam estimates that there are fewer than 1,000 peacekeepers deployed in the LRA-affected areas.

A person interviewed in Haut- Uélé said: “Our future is dark. We are scared all the time. The LRA continue to kill us and burn our houses down. We have a family that has been staying with us for a week, after they fled Doruma, where the LRA have been abducting day and night. We are not safe here.”

People surveyed asked for more community engagement by UN peacekeepers stationed in the area to help them better protect people against brutal attacks. They also called for regular salaries and more rations to be given to troops of the Congolese army, the FARDC.

They told Oxfam that they wanted the soldiers to be better equipped in order to fight the LRA more effectively, and they asked for the regular payment of salaries so that the impoverished local population would stop bearing the financial burden through the payment of illegal taxes. Along a 100 km stretch of road in Haut-Uélé, there were a reported 25 roadblocks manned by the FARDC, each one costing a minimum of 200 Congolese francs ($0.22) to cross. The majority of Congolese people live on under $1.25 a day.

The head of Oxfam in DRC, Pauline Ballaman, said: “Oxfam is worried that small mobile groups of hungry LRA fighters continue to viciously target the most isolated and forgotten people in north-eastern DRC. Despite past military operations and increased international attention, the LRA is still able to wreak havoc in neglected communities and is responsible for widespread killings, abductions and displacement.”

Oxfam undertook the survey in the period leading up to one of the worst months on record in the number of attacks by the LRA. In June alone, there were 53 attacks, involving 26 deaths and 23 kidnappings, including 10 children. In the first six months of 2011, there were 158 attacks in total, representing a 53 per cent increase on the previous year.

Ballaman said: “Protecting civilians is the primary responsibility of the Congolese government, but the latest spate of LRA attacks demonstrates that there is a gap in security, leaving people vulnerable. While strengthening the Congolese security services is clearly the long-term solution, in the meantime MONUSCO must step up. At the moment, only 5 per cent of MONUSCO’s total force is deployed to LRA areas, while 20 per cent of population displacements in the DRC are due to the LRA. Both those figures need to change as soon as possible.”

Based on the findings of the survey, Oxfam recommends that:
1.National and international efforts to implement the Congolese government’s plans for army reform should prioritise the changes that communities say will most directly improve their safety, in particular the payment of salaries.
2. International donors must support infrastructure projects involving the expansion of mobile phone coverage and the construction of roads in the LRA areas in order to make LRA-affected communities less vulnerable
3. The deployment of UN-peace-keepers to LRA areas should be reviewed and significantly increased. MONUSCO should continue expanding their communication with local people on the protection they need.

Oxfam says that since September 2008, the LRA has killed more than 2,300 people, abducted more than 3,000 and displaced over 400,000 others in DRC, Sudan and the Central African Republic. In the DRC alone, 45,000 civilians fled the LRA in the first six months of this year.