DR Congo's Béni becomes a ghost town after massacre

People from Tingwe show our Observer the makeshift cemetary where their loved ones were buried after the attack on May 3, 2016. Photo: Yassine Kombi.
People from Tingwe show our Observer the makeshift cemetary where their loved ones were buried after the attack on May 3, 2016. Photo: Yassine Kombi.

Seventeen people were killed in the village of Éringéti, in the Béni region in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo, in early May. Our Observer, a local radio journalist, traveled to the site of the massacre where he met several survivors who had made day trips back to the abandoned ghost town, now strictly controlled by the Congolese military.

The region located between the towns of Eringéti, Kamando and Mbau bears a grisly nickname: the “triangle of death”. Since October 2014, this region has been the site of numerous massacres. No group has ever claimed responsibility for these attacks and the perpetrators have never been even been identified, let alone brought to justice.

A month ago, about 350 people were busy living their lives in a village called Tingwe. But on the evening of May 3, a group of men armed with machetes and axes attacked the village, slaughtering eight women, four children and five men. The survivors of the attack fled, emptying the entire village within a matter of minutes.

The attackers, whose identity is still unknown, also burned two homes to the ground before fleeing themselves, thus escaping capture by the Congolese soldiers and Monusco forces [the UN forces] based in the region. Since that bloody night, Tingwe has remained empty of its residents and under strict military control.

“They gather around makeshift burial sites ”

At the end of last week, our Observer, Yassin Kombi, who is a radio journalist with Kivu 1 in Béni, went to Tingwe.

In order to get to Tingwe, you have to travel about sixty kilometres by motocycle. The journey takes about an hour and, the whole time, your stomach is knotted with fear. Congolese soldiers are often ambushed by the rebel groups active in the region [Editor’s note: including the Ugandan rebels who make up ADF-Nalu]. On Monday night, I got stuck in Tingwe because there had been a rebel attack on a Congolese military convoy.

My stomach was in knots while I was there and I realised that people who live in the “triangle of death” must feel that fear constantly.

Video by Charly Kasereka. Our Observer filmed several videos showing the military presence in the abandoned village where massacres took place on May 3. 

When I got there, I was shocked by the silence. The survivors all fled after the massacre. Most have taken refuge with family members in neighbouring villages, while others are being sheltered by host families.

The Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) took over the abandoned town and have been using the area as a base [Editor’s note: On May 9, the “Sokola” operation, now baptised the “Usalama operation”, was moved to the “triangle of death”].

Yassin Kombi

Tingwe residents haven’t been allowed to return home. If they want to make a day trip to Tingwe to gather vegetables from their plots, work on upkeep of their homes or to visit the graves of their loved ones, they have to get authorisation from the army. If they get permission, they are allowed to travel with one of the frequent military convoys to the village.

When they arrive in Tingwe, the residents are kept under strict surveillance by soldiers and they have to state exactly where they are planning on going [Editor’s note: The governor of North Kivu, Julien Paluki, announced on Sunday that any “suspicious movements” of the population had been suspended].

“A feeling of powerlessness that the attacks will continue”

I met one woman who came alone to Tingwe in order to upkeep her plot of land. Her entire family had their throats slit the night of May 3. Sometimes, people like her are allowed to come and work in their fields to gather the few vegetables that haven’t already been stolen.

Yassin Kombi

I also met men who had gathered around the makeshift tombs where their family members were buried. After the massacres, they buried the bodies in a field and erected large crosses. In fact, these gatherings around the tombs are really the only “activity” left in Tingwe.

All of the residents have to leave before dusk falls.

Yassin Kombi

When I am in the region, I can’t shake the feeling of fear. I’m wary of everyone, even Congolese soldiers. Villagers said that the men who carried out the attack on May 3 were disguised as FARDC soldiers. So I definitely don’t linger there.

People in this region are really living in terrible conditions. The attacks mean that they have lost the small income that they earned from cultivating their fields. These people are torn between the hope that the night patrols, which start after 6pm, will bring a little order to the region and fear that the attacks will continue. I think they feel powerless.

Since the Usalama operation was launched, the FARDC say that they have killed 15 rebels from ADF-Nalu as well as taking three suspected rebel positions and capturing several weapons.

But civil society groups in North Kivu, as well as members of the opposition, are demanding a more serious, committed response to stop these ongoing massacres. In late May, civil society groups in Béni, Lubero and Butembo sent a letter to President Joseph Kabila stating that 1,116 people had died in massacres in the region since October 2014.

Yassin Kombi