August 2, 2005

Congo violence cuts medical care for 100,000 people

By David Lewis

KINSHASA (Reuters) - More than 100,000 people have been
deprived of medical care after kidnappings of staff working for
a medical charity in Congo's Ituri district forced it to scale
back operations, the organization said on Tuesday.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) (Doctors Without Borders)
made the announcement while issuing a report highlighting the
level of violence against civilians in the area, where more
than 60,000 people have been killed in fighting since 1999.

"The closing of MSF projects outside of Bunia is a direct
consequence of the abduction of the two MSF members on June
2nd, 2005," the aid agency said in a statement, referring to
the main town in the northeastern Ituri region.

"The release of the two MSF (staff) ten days later, is not
considered by the organization as sufficient guarantee for the
resumption of its activities. More than 100,000 displaced
people were benefiting from this assistance," it added.

MSF's said in its report the assistance was cut on July 22.

The report, "Nothing New in Ituri: The Violence Continues,"
MSF documents the murders, torture, rape and kidnappings that
plague Ituri despite the presence of nearly 5,000 U.N.
peacekeepers and efforts by Democratic Republic Congo's
transitional government to impose its authority there.

Much of the violence is fueled by competition for mineral
resources or customs revenues, often along ethnic lines.


Although it is now shutting down operations in camps for
people who fled attacks by gunmen, MSF said it will continue to
run a 300-bed hospital in Bunia for emergency cases.

More than 90 percent of the 795 families interviewed by MSF
for the report said they had had at least one member kidnapped
during attacks on their villages.

The men were taken to be used as porters for loot and
weapons while women provide the militia with labourers, cooks
and sex slaves, the report said.

Rape is common in Ituri, where MSF has treated more than
3,500 victims of sexual violence against women and girls
between the ages of 8 months and 80 years, mostly in attacks
involving weapons like rifles and machetes.

"After looting and burning the huts in that village, the
armed men gathered up all the girls and took them to be their
wives far away into the forest," a 14-year-old girl told MSF.

Long accused of not doing enough to protect civilians, the
United Nations stepped up operations against Ituri's militias
in February and says it has disarmed 15,000 fighters, although
MSF says more needs to be done.

"Today the reality is plain: populations living outside
Bunia have been left to fend for themselves and given over to
the limitless violence of armed groups," MSF said.