Horror haunts survivors of DR Congo's hidden war

Inside the Congo camp haunted by an unknown war. Photo: Reuters

BUNIA, Democratic Republic of Congo - The last thing 11-year-old Mave Grace saw before falling unconscious was men with machetes cutting open her pregnant mother's belly and killing the unborn child.

When Mave woke she was surrounded by dead bodies. Her left hand was cut off just above the wrist.

"Around us we saw corpses everywhere," she says. Wearing a green patterned dress, she squints into the sun as she holds up her arm, the scabs of the stump still not fully healed.

Mave Grace's home village of Tchee lies in the eastern Ituri region, where ethnic strife between Hema herders and Lendu farmers has cost untold lives and forced tens of thousands to flee this year.

Information from Ituri is hard to come by since the region is very remote and volatile, but the violence there is driven in part by a breakdown of government authority, which has sparked conflict in other parts of the country as well.

President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to leave power at the end of his mandate in 2016 has undermined the legitimacy of the state in the eyes of many Congolese, with deadly consequences.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, expects 200,000 refugees to reach Uganda from Ituri this year, stretching limited humanitarian resources there.

Other survivors like Mave and her family have been forced into camps inside Congo.

The camp in which she is staying, on a hillside on the edge of the town of Bunia, is a sea of makeshift blue and white tarpaulin tents, inside which the temporary residents huddle from regular rainy season downpours, and the cold. Many spend their days praying together for a way out.

Their bodies and faces show what they ran from. Mave's two-year-old sister, Rachele-Ngabausi, has a diagonal scar from the bottom of her left cheek, past the inside of her left eye and up to her forehead.

Her father, Nyine Richard, is full of despair.

"Even if I go back to my village, I do not know how to live anymore. I have lost all hope."

Reuters

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