Far from the media spotlight, rebel soldiers in northeast DR Congo terrorise civilians

A soldier from the regular army near the town of Sake, in North Kivu, on Monday. Photo by our Observer, Alain Wandimoyi.
 
For about a month now, rebel soldiers have been wreaking havoc in North Kivu, a province in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo that had already been ravaged by years of war. Our Observer, a photographer who is currently about 10 kilometres away from the frontline separating the rebel soldiers from the regular army, shares his images of a crisis taking place far away from the eyes of the world.
 
In early April, a group of soldiers from the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) – a militia present in North Kivu since 2003 and that joined forces with the regular army in 2009 – decided to desert. The deserters claim that the country’s president, Joseph Kabila, “did not respect agreements between the government and the CNDP concerning reforms to the Congolese army.” The rebels, of whom there are several hundred, are led by general Bosco Ntaganda, the former chief of the CNDP. Ntaganda, who is also known as “the Terminator,” has been wanted by the International Criminal Court since 2006 for enlisting child soldiers. The court plans to issue a new warrant for his arrest; this time he is accused of raping and murdering, both while he was leading the CNDP and after it was integrated into the regular army in 2009.
 
Over the past week and a half, the rebels and the regular army have repeatedly clashed. On Sunday, a particularly violent battle took place in the region of Masisi, which was occupied by the CNDP in the past, and which the rebels have now reclaimed parts of. According to the United Nations, nearly 5,000 people, mostly women, children, and the elderly, have already fled the region.
 
All photos were taken by our Observer Alain Wandimoyi and published on his blog.
 
Civilians and soldiers hitting the road, near Sake.  

The province of North Kivu, which shares borders with Uganda and Rwanda, is rich in minerals, notably copper, diamonds, and coltan, a mineral used to manufacture mobile phones. For over two decades now, the region has been ravaged by battles between various parties trying to gain control of these precious resources.
Contributors

"The rebels have spread out and are now wreaking havoc"

Alain Wandimoyi is a photographer and blogger. He lives in Goma. He travelled Monday to Sake, in the Masisi region, where the regular army runs a large camp.
 
“The CNPD soldiers, which joined the regular army in 2009, had asked for better opportunities within the army’s hierarchy, as well as a recognition of the rank they held in their militia. However, they didn’t get what they wanted, and now feel cheated.
 
The rebels all say they’re with Bosco Ntaganda, who is hiding somewhere in the hills. The situation in the Masisi region is very complicated; people are very confused. In just a few weeks, the rebels have spread out throughout the towns and villages and created a wave of panic. The civilian population is now trying to flee. Some people I met found themselves in the middle of gun battles and said that rebels did not hesitate to shoot civilians. Nobody really understands what their goal is.
 
 
A displaced civilian on the side of a road, near Sake. 

The rebels now control the crop fields – farmers have been forced to abandon their land. Many civilians are flowing into Goma, but the city doesn’t have the resources needed to take care of them. Some are temporarily sleeping in schools, or even on the streets. Others are fleeing to Rwanda. Soldiers from the regular army have been seen walking on the roads alongside fleeing civilians, but from my understanding, this is a tactical retreat. Most of the regular army is stationed near the rebels and is organising a counter-attack.
 
Soldiers from Congo's regular army.
 
Two soldiers from the regular army meet up after fighting against the rebels.

 
The civilians who managed to flee are lucky, because in several areas, the rebels are now barring people from leaving. This is a technique they use in order to be able to more easily enrol people by force. Cases of rape have also been reported.
 
Near Sake.

Everyone is worried that the population will suffer, once again. [Between 1998 and 2003, the second Congo war ravaged the country. The north-east was particularly affected.] However, I don’t think these rebels can get very far. Unless they receive support from foreign nations, like Rwanda [in 2008, a UN report accused Rwanda, under Paul Kagame’s leadership, of supporting the Tutsi militia of Laurent Nkunda, who was then the head of the CNDP], this rebellion won’t last long, because the number of rebels isn’t very high and they will quickly run out of ammunition.
 
 
The two photos above were taken by Alain Wandimoyi in 2009, when the CNDP joined forces with the regular army. More photos here.
 
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Ségolène Malterre.
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