Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) announced yesterday that it was forced to suspend its medical activities in the Walikale area of The Democratic Republic of Congo despite a malaria outbreak. Radio Okapi reports that Mai Mai militiamen forced hundreds of people to abandon their homes and flee into the bush. The Mai Mai have been fighting the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a militia of Hutu extremists responsible for the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
"The recent fighting and insecurity in Walikale make it impossible for our team to carry out their medical work," said Andrew Mews, MSF's Head of Mission in Goma. "We're very concerned about the civilians living in the area that are exposed to this violence and are denied healthcare as a result."
Civilians in Walikale February 2012 by Mbusa
Until recently, the Mai Mai was allied with the FDLR, and both rebel groups used Walikale as the lynchpin in smuggling and extortion operations exploiting the area's mineral resources. The alliance fractured when an FDLR officer, Colonel Evariste aka Colonel Sadiki, was murdered by Mai Mai forces earlier this year. According to a report by a UN Panel, the FDLR and Mai-Mai conducted joint military operations resulting in mass murders and rapes near the villages of Kibua and Luvungi between July 30 and August 2, 2010.
Forest near Walikale by Mbusa
Photo by "Mbusa" "I have attached the photo of Walikale forest where runs River Lowa. While the forest is a blessing for some people, Brazilians for example, it appears to be a cursing for Walikale people since this where FDLR and other armed groups hide after they have killed, raped, looted."
Radio Okapi says that even though the Mai Mai attacked several villages along the Bukavu/Walikale road, "the Armed Forces of DRC (FARDC) failed to block the progression of these militiamen to Walikale-center despite the patrols they had introduced."
In this video, Susan Schulman reports for the Pulitzer Center from Walikale in 2011.
Rebel plunderers have increased attacks on the helpless population since 2010, inflicting summary executions, mass sexual violence, systematic lootings, abductions and the use of civilians for forced labor.
Why is the Congolese army failing to protect the local population and where is the United Nations (MONUSCO) in all of this?
A recent post by Stars and Stripes , provides some interesting and troubling insight.
A US-trained light infantry battalion of Congolese soldiers (FARDC) has been deployed to fight the newly formed M23 rebel group near Goma, about twelve hours by road from Walikale if you make it through rebel territory and the mud with no incidents.
U.S. special operations AFRICOM forces trained the Congolese 391st infantry battalion in 2010. According to Stars and Stripes, U.S. taxpayers paid the $15 million bill to train the 750 troops.
The UN (MONUSCO) deployed five Russian made attack
helicopters last week against
alleged M23 positions, but succeeded only in injuring and killing civilians.
Why is this massive show of force directed at the small group of M23 rebels when Walikale has been under siege for years? Why is it so important for the United States to defeat the M23, when the group has not attacked civilian populations? The UN says 220,000 have been displaced by the fighting between the Congolese army and the M23, but what about the millions displaced by the FDLR, Mai Mai and other rebel groups?