UN fails to halt DRC reign of terror
Hundreds of civilians are being killed in terror attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) while United Nations and Congolese soldiers tasked with protecting them fail to launch a joint offensive to stop the carnage.
More than 200 civilians have been hacked to death in 16 mysterious attacks in and around the eastern DRC city of Beni since October 3, the latest taking place this week. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The UN’s Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), which includes 850 South African combat troops, has a mandate to aggressively pursue rebels. Yet no UN military ground offensive has been launched against the attackers.
One attack took place five minutes’ drive from a UN base near Beni, another in which at least 58 people were killed was half an hour away. Witnesses described seeing bodies with split skulls strewn across paths.
The FIB previously launched joint ground and air offensives against rebels in the bush, using snipers, special forces operatives and mortar teams together with the Congolese army, known by the French acronym FARDC.
But no joint offensive has taken place in Beni since President Joseph Kabila replaced the army high command here shortly before the massacres began.
“Offensive operations have been planned but the timeframes have not been set,” Tanzanian FIB commander Brigadier-General Ramadhan Abdul Kimweri said in an interview on Friday. “We have entered a new, dangerous phase of terror tactics.”
Kimweri blamed the UN’s tardy response to the massacres on “intelligence failures”
“We can’t fight someone without intelligence. We need to know where they are.”
South African deputy FIB commander Colonel Mthetheleli Ncgulu is based in Beni, although the South African troops are deployed elsewhere.
The DRC’s UN head Martin Kobler this week conceded joint operations with the FARDC, which has shown little appetite to act against the killers, had ground to a halt. “We can only do it together with the FARDC. This is the main problem.”
Joint combat operations “existed a few months ago (but) this is not taking place now and we must find a way to do it”.
Until this week FARDC and UN peacekeepers have rarely gone in hot pursuit of the killers, who often strike less than one kilometre from Congolese army bases.
This has fuelled local perceptions that elements in the Congolese army are running hit squads to carry out the massacres.
“I am aware of these allegations,” said Kobler. He declined to elaborate.
Kobler conceded the UN response to the massacres had been inadequate but claimed this was changing. Drones were deployed over Beni two weeks ago and the FIB was reacting quicker to massacres, including at Mapiki village this week.
Tanzanian special forces arrived at the village soon after the attack began and pursued the killers into the jungle, he said. None were captured.
At Mapiki village near Eringeti 60km north of Beni the killers emerged from the forest at 7.30pm, spraying the mud huts with AK-47 fire, according to witnesses interviewed.
The first person they killed was Lea Kisuki. She was dragged out of her house and hacked to death in her kitchen hut.
Then they targeted a long mud hut with four doors facing the street. Kavira Mwayuma, her neighbour Mamalisa and Bunzulai Masumbuko were dragged out and hacked with machetes. Masumbuko’s pregnant wife Simerita Mbafumoja was clubbed half to death in her room. She died later.
Lea’s younger brother, 12-year-old Ezekial Kisuku, fled in terror across the yards. The killers caught up with him in a small clearing between two huts, where they hacked him to death. Bloodstains and bits of his skull were still lying on the mud yard the next morning.
Ezekial’s schoolmates are too traumatised to go to class. “I am very sad,” said Joel Kambale, 14. “I’m afraid they will come back.”
The other villagers, including the elders around the fire, scattered in terror as the killers kicked down doors. “We were very, very afraid,” says Katembo Mayowa, who hid in the bushes until the killers slipped back into the forest they’d come from with looted goats, cooking oil and clothing.
When Sunday Times reporters arrived at the local hospital the next morning Ezekial and Mamalisa had died. Both were laid out on a wooden hospital bed under white shrouds, their clothes tied up in a bloodstained bundle on the floor.
Mamalisa had large gashes in her neck. Brains were oozing out of Ezekial’s skull, his face disfigured by wide machete gashes.
Mwayuma lay with one hand with a drip attached clasped to her chest. She faced the wall with dull lifeless eyes, groaning occasionally. A large bandaged lump protruded from the back of her skull where she was hacked with a machete. “I fear she won’t make it,” said Dr Mukongoya Nzemengo.
He said the UN had done nothing to curb the attacks.
“Why are the soldiers on the road and not patrolling in the bushes where the enemy is or going after them?” said Nzemengo. “The FIB doesn’t do anything to help. Having the FIB here has made no difference.”
Several attempts to reach the FARDC commander in Beni Brigadier-General Mundos Akili for comment proved fruitless.
* This story was made possible in part by a Taco Kuiper grant
Stephan Hofstatter and James Oatway met some of the survivors of the massacres in Beni. Read the full stories in the Sunday Times today or subscribe to the online edition and read it here.