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Renewed conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has forced 250,000 civilians to flee, else face brutality and rape in their villages. Most have moved to makeshift camps with conditions of squalor.
The most pressing conflict is between DRC government forces and Tutsi rebels led by General Laurent Nkunda, a self-fashioned protector of ethnic Tutsis after the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Roughly 6,000-strong, the well-trained rebel group has increasingly fought government forces in recent months.
Negotiations for ceasefires are viewed with suspicion. Recently, Gen. Nkunda and a UN special envoy discussed suspending fighting in the area. However, during the well-publicized, two-hour talks, battles continued to rage elsewhere between DRC forces and Gen. Nkunda’s men.
The African nation has long been torn by violence, most notably during a drawn out civil war, which ended in 2003. The war claimed approximately three million lives, mostly to starvation and disease. After the war ended, some rebels refused to disarm or join the army.
Today, outbreaks between rebel factions, government forces and militia groups, from at least 12 different ethnic groups, form the basis of the fighting.
Concrete causes for the skirmishes are not clear. However, one motive may be to control the nation’s vast mineral resources, particularly coltan, a metallic ore used in cellphones.
With conditions worsening, the UN is working to get aid to civilians, but is often prohibited due to the intense conflict.
In addition to disease and starvation, citizens must face other harsh realities—especially women and young girls.
“Every month, hundreds of women and girls continue to be victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence in all provinces of the DRC,” said Kemal Siki, spokesman for the UN Mission in the Congo (The East African).