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SLUG: 2-326343 Congo / Violence (L-O)









HEADLINE: Ituri Violence Forces Aid Workers Out of the Field

INTRO: A recent kidnapping of aid workers and continuing violence against civilians have forced the French medical charity Doctors Without Borders to stop field operations in Congo's lawless Ituri district. Their decision to limit operations to an emergency hospital in the main town, Bunia, will deprive 100-thousand displaced civilians of basic healthcare and highlights the on-going trouble in Ituri. David Lewis reports for VOA from Kinshasa.

TEXT: The aid workers were released unharmed 10 days after they were captured in June by gunmen in the rolling hills of Ituri. But after months of continuing violence against civilians, a French medical charity has decided it has had enough and stopped much of its operation in the field.

The decision by Doctors Without Borders, known as MSF, to limit its activities in Ituri to Bunia town has left 100-thousand civilians who fled fighting and are sheltering in displaced camps without any basic healthcare.

But in an effort to highlight the level of on-going violence in Ituri, where 60-thousand people have died since 1999, MSF issued a report documenting the murders, torture, rape, and kidnappings that have become a part of daily life in the lawless northeast.

Congo's wider, five-year war officially ended two-years ago, and the tenuous peace is being overseen by about five-thousand U.N. peacekeepers deployed in Ituri. The United Nations says its troops have disarmed 15-thousand fighters.

But thousands of gunmen remain and they have reorganized and, according to analysts, put ethnic differences behind them to protect their shared interests of minerals and the control of border trade.

In its survey, MSF found that more than 90-percent of the 795 families it interviewed had at least one person kidnapped during attacks on their villages. The men are used as porters for loot and weapons while women provide the militia with laborers, cooks, and sex slaves.

Figures for rape are equally shocking. The agency said it has treated 35-hundred victims of sexual violence against women and girls between the ages of eight months and 80 years. Most of the cases included the use of rifles and machetes.

The United Nations is pursuing a more aggressive approach against the gunmen, sending hundreds of soldiers out to break up training camps, seize weapons, and arrest militiamen.

But MSF says it is not enough and, two years after Congo's war was supposed to have ended, populations living outside Bunia have been left to fend for themselves. (SIGNED)


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