The increasing violence in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo is taking a terrible toll on civilians. The most vulnerable of these civilians are the children. Reuters has this report from the North Kivu Province (Province du Nord-Kivu) which is located on the DRC’s eastern border:
Packed into squalid refugee camps or roaming in the bush, hundreds of thousands of Congolese children face hunger, disease, sexual abuse or recruitment by marauding armed factions, aid workers said on Tuesday.
Weeks of violence have forced more than 250,000 people from homes or ramshackle camps where they had taken shelter, bringing to over 1 million the number of internal refugees from years of fighting in Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu province.
Most are children.
"North Kivu is quite possibly the worst place to be a child. There is no question that children have been the most severely affected by the recent conflict," said George Graham, spokesman for Save the Children in the provincial capital, Goma.
Fighting between Tutsi rebels and pro-government troops and militia fighters has subsided into sporadic clashes in recent days as African leaders staged summits and leant on both sides to avert a repeat of Congo's devastating 1998-2003 regional war.
"When children flee fighting they become more vulnerable to contracting diseases, to becoming malnourished, and vulnerable to predators like sexual abuse, exploitation, violence and recruitment into armed groups," U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) spokesman Jaya Murthy told Reuters in Goma.
Sixty percent of the 1.1 million displaced are children, he said. "We estimate that there's around 2,000 to 3,000 children in armed groups and recruitment is going on right now."
"This has been a silent emergency for children for the last five years, only now it is re-exploding -- again."
Fighters on both sides have attacked, looted, raped and murdered civilians in raids the U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo, known as MONUC, says include war crimes.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch quoted local sources and civilians as saying at least 50 civilians were killed last week in Kiwanja, 70 km (45 miles) north of Goma.
Nyrarukundo Rivera, 42, told Reuters she lost her children when fleeing violence in Kiwanja and hadn't seen them since.