12 November 2008


Journalists and other civilians are deliberately being targeted by rebel forces and government-backed militias in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, report Journalist in Danger (JED), Human Rights Watch and other IFEX members.

Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda's forces battled the Mai Mai, government-backed local militias, on 4 and 5 November for control of Kiwanja in North Kivu province, killing at least 20 civilians trapped in the conflict zone.

On 4 November, Belgian journalist Thomas Scheen, African correspondent for the German newspaper "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung", and his interpreter Charles Ntiricya and their driver Roger Bangue, were abducted by Mai Mai forces in Kinwanja. They were released three days later.

Alfred Munyamaliza Bitwahiki Njonjo, a journalist and presenter on the community radio station Radio Communautaire Ushikira (RACOU), who was reportedly killed in the clashes, is in fact alive. In a phone interview with JED, Njonjo and RACOU's editor-in-chief Faustin Tawite said that, fearing for their lives, they took refuge in a United Nations Mission (MONUC) camp on 7 November.

But RACOU, the only radio station in Kiwanja, was pillaged by Nkunda's forces, says JED, and Njonjo's home was burned down by Mai Mai militias. The station had been airing government press statements and interviews with officials about the security situation. Four other stations in the war zone have pre-emptively shut down, fearing looting, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

"The conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo has claimed many civilian victims," said the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). "Now the journalists who are attempting to report on this war are tragically finding themselves under attack."

According to the UN, more than 100 civilians have been killed, 150 injured and 250,000 displaced since rebels began their offensive in late August, swelling a refugee population that already stood at one million. The recent fighting has severely hampered aid efforts. Tens of thousands of displaced people are in camps north of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, while many others remain in urgent need of food, clean water, healthcare and shelter.

Nkunda claims to be fighting to protect his Tutsi community from attacks by Rwandan Hutu rebels, who fled to DR Congo after Rwanda's 1994 genocide. According to CPJ, groups are also struggling over the rights to rich mineral deposits.

In recent weeks, Nkunda's forces have taken a series of towns and villages near Goma. Government soldiers looted houses and stole vehicles from humanitarian agencies before fleeing. The UN also reports of women being raped during the looting.

JED, Human Rights Watch and at least 10 other human rights and humanitarian agencies are asking governments to respond to the UN's urgent appeal to send more peacekeepers and reinforcements to MONUC, which has been unable to halt abuses against civilians.

Visit these links:
- JED: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/98362/- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=29220- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/5t7vrg- Human Rights Watch: http://tinyurl.com/64qy2c- BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7722069.stm(12 November 2008)

Democratic Republic of Congo

IFEX members working in this country 1

More from Democratic Republic of Congo