Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Note from North Kivu

We drove north from Goma along the road to Rutshuru, along a ribbon of concrete that wound towards the Ugandan border. To the west loomed a volcano that glowed red as dusk fell, still active and perilous. To the east, a pair of its now-dormant brothers rose many thousands of feet into the air, visible in Rwanda. The landscape was impossibly green and fecund, densely packed semi-tropical forest dappled with mist in its upper reaches. My traveling partner, Andrew Mcconnell, a photo journalist from Northern Ireland, and I, were ranging far in the Congolese province of North Kivu, as stunningly beautiful a place as I have ever set foot in, but which warring political foes have succeeding in turning into a hell for its people.

Refugee camps, crowded and squalid, dot the landscape, as fighting between Congolese government forces (the Forces Armées de la Republic Démocratique du Congo or FARDC) and their allied paramilitary Mayi Mayi supporters (such as the Patriotes Résistents Congolais or PARECO), forces loyal to renegade Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda (who leads the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple, known as the CNDP) and the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), a group with its roots in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and comprising mainly of ethnic Hutus from Rwanda itself and Congo, has succeeded in emptying out whole villages whose residents flee the mass rape, forced recruitment of child soldiers and other attendant atrocities that have characterized the conflict.

What I saw, and those whom I interviewed while there, will form the basis of some articles that will be appearing over the next several weeks.

In the meantime, I offer this photo of children at the Magunga 1 camp for internally displaced persons, or les déplaceés, as they are called here, where nearly 20,000 souls live under an intense sun in an expanse of temporary huts constructed of banana leaves and grass, with thin sheets of UNHCR-donated tarpaulin slung across them. I believe that the look on their faces speaks in eloquent commentary of the situation as it stands today in North Kivu, and the necessity of committed journalists to go there and report on what is a largely forgotten though ongoing conflict, one in which many actors from Europe, North America and Africa itself have a long history of involvement in and culpability for.

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