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Thursday, 20th February 2020
4:51:36am

Central Africa

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Killings, rapes and other barbaric violence committed by an ethnic armed group in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo against a rival group may amount to crimes against humanity and possibly even genocide, the United Nations said on Friday.

The attacks in Ituri province have mostly targeted Hema herders, who have long been in conflict with Lendu farmers over grazing rights and political representation.

Lendu armed groups have carried out systematic and widespread attacks, trying to “inflict lasting trauma” on the Hema and clear them from what they deem to be their ancestral lands, the U.N. human rights office said in a report.

“The widespread nature of the organisation, the systematic nature, is certainly characteristic of crimes against humanity,” U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a briefing.

“The burden of proof of genocide, the intent to destroy a whole part of a population, is far more difficult to prove.”

Lendu groups have acquired more firearms after seizing them from the military, U.N. investigators said.

“The barbarity that characterises these attacks – including the beheading of women and children with machetes, the dismemberment and removal of body parts of the victims as trophies of war – reflects the desire of the attackers to inflict lasting trauma to the Hema communities and to force them to flee and not return to their villages,” the report said.

“Certain elements constituting genocide” - a rare designation under international law - may be present, it said.

The FARDC army and police have failed to stop the violence and have themselves carried out executions, rapes and arbitrary arrests, it said. Congolese authorities must deploy more security forces and investigate abuses, it added.

At least 701 people have been killed and 168 injured during inter-ethnic violence between the Hema and Lendu communities in Djugu and Mahagi territories from December 2017 to September 2019, the report said. At least 142 people have suffered acts of sexual violence, it added.

Most victims are from the Hema community, but the U.N. investigators said they had also documented acts of reprisals by some Hema, including the burning of villages.

Nearly 57,000 Congolese have fled to Uganda while more than half a million have been displaced in their homeland, it said.

-Reuters

Suspected Islamist fighters killed 14 people in eastern Congo on Friday, local authorities said, as a month-long spike in violence complicates efforts to contain a deadly Ebola outbreak.

The attack in the village of Kukutama, 10 km (6 miles) southwest of Oicha in North Kivu, comes on top of a death toll of more than 100 since Oct. 30 when the army started an operation to root out the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a jihadist group operating in the dense forests bordering Uganda.

Friday’s attack was just a few miles from another attack days earlier in which at least 19 people were killed. 

“While the army is doing its best to neutralize the ADF rebellion, the rebels are preying on defenceless civilians by way of revenge,” said Donat Kibwana, administrator of the territory of Beni.

Many of the victims have been hacked to death or beheaded, according to local rights and civil society groups. 

Violence in the region is hampering efforts to halt the spread of the Ebola virus, which has killed 2,200 people since August 2018.

International organisations warned on Friday of a potential resurgence of the virus after deadly militia attacks on health centres forced aid groups to suspend operations and withdraw staff from the epidemic’s last strongholds.

-Reuters

Health authorities in eastern Congo have introduced a new Ebola vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson, aid group MSF said on Thursday, to help combat the world’s second-worst outbreak of the virus on record.

New tools including vaccines have helped contain the outbreak, second only to the 2013-16 West African outbreak that killed more than 11,300, despite public mistrust and conflict affecting the response in parts of the region.

The new vaccine, which has passed clinical trials but has never been tested in a real-world setting, will be administered to 50,000 people in Goma, a city of two million on the Rwandan border, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said in a statement.

The vaccine, which requires two injections eight weeks apart, will be rolled out alongside another manufactured by Merck, which only requires a single shot. The Merck vaccine has been administered to over 250,000 people since the start of the outbreak in August 2018. 

“The introduction of a second vaccine is not meant to replace [Merck’s] vaccine, but to complement it and hopefully provide us with an additional tool in the fight against future Ebola outbreaks,” said John Johnson, who is leading the project for MSF.

Congo’s epidemic has infected over 3,000 people and killed nearly 2,200 people, however the number of reported new infections has fallen steeply since June.

The Merck shot is being deployed in a strategy known as “ring vaccination”, which aims to control Ebola by identifying and offering the vaccine to contacts of those likely to be infected.

The plan with the addition of the J&J vaccine is to extend protection by providing it to “targeted at-risk populations” in areas where the disease is not yet being actively transmitted, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Four cases of the disease were recorded in Goma this year, but no new cases have been reported in the lakeside city since August.

Some Congolese health officials have criticised the J&J vaccine on the grounds that it has not been properly tested, although it has passed phase I and II clinical trials, and been endorsed by the WHO.

-Reuters

Islamist militiamen killed at least 19 people overnight in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, stepping up attacks on civilians in response to a military campaign against them in border areas with Uganda, local officials said on Wednesday.

The assailants, who the officials said belong to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan Islamist group, also kidnapped several people and torched a Catholic church during two separate attacks about 35 km (22 miles) apart.

The Congolese army began an offensive three weeks ago near the Ugandan border. The ADF has been operating there for more than two decades and is one of dozens of rebel groups active in the mineral-rich areas where civil wars resulted in millions of deaths around the turn of the century.

Several previous ADF attacks have been claimed by Islamic State, but the extent of their relationship remains unclear. 

Army spokesman Mak Hazukay said the ADF killed at least seven people on the outskirts of the city of Beni, adding that two soldiers were wounded and several people were missing. 

Donat Kibwana, the administrator of Beni territory, said ADF fighters killed another 12 people in the village of Mavete, where they also burned a church and a pharmacy and kidnapped several others.

At least 70 people have been killed since the army campaign began, according to the Kivu Security Tracker, a research initiative that maps unrest in the region.

Violence by the ADF and other militias has also hindered efforts to contain an Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 2,000 people since last year.

-Reuters 

Congolese forces have killed the leader of an offshoot of a Hutu militia in the restive east of the country, the army said on Sunday, two months after killing the leader of the main faction.

Juvenal Musabimana led a splinter group of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a group founded by Hutu officials who fled Rwanda after orchestrating the 1994 genocide.

His killing is the latest blow to the FDLR, which has been weakened in recent years by arrests of several of its leaders and military pressure from Democratic Republic of Congo’s armed forces, the FARDC, and other militias.

The army “neutralised another radical leader of the FDLR on Saturday the ninth of November at 14:00,” said Guillaume Njike, a Congolese army spokesman.

Musabimana, who was also known by his nom de guerre Jean-Michel Africa, was killed alongside four of his bodyguards following an intense firefight in Binza, North Kivu, near the Ugandan border, Njike added.

Congolese forces killed the leader of the main branch of the FDLR, Sylvestre Mudacumura, on Sept. 18.

The group split in a row over ranks and money in 2007, said Christoph Vogel, a researcher at the conflict research programme hosted by the London School of Economics and Ghent University.

“Compared with Mudacumura, (Musabimana) is a small fish so I doubt this is as significant, but it shows that different actors seem to be converging on a more coordinated push against FDLR and anything they define as such.”

Rwanda’s foreign affairs minister Olivier Nduhungirehe said Musabimana’s fighters were responsible for a deadly cross-border attack in October in a mountainous region famous for its mountain gorillas in which eight people died.

“This is an act of justice,” he told Reuters by telephone.

“This is the confirmation of the resolve of (Congolese) President Félix Tshisekedi and the FARDC to eradicate armed groups and terrorist organizations in eastern Congo. We thank them for that.”

The FDLR has also been a source of friction between Rwanda and Uganda in the last year. Rwanda accused Uganda in March of supporting the FDLR and another Congo-based rebel group opposed to the Rwandan government. Uganda denied the allegations.

-Reuters

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