GOMA – When Freddy Shibelu returned to his home in the city of Beni, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, after fleeing an attack by Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan rebel group operating in the central African nation, he found the lifeless body of his daughter.
The skull of the five-year-old girl had been cracked open with a machete by the rebels. “My only daughter died a painful death,” the 33-year-old told this news website.
The latest ADF attack on Sunday left six people dead in Beni north Kivu. Last Saturday, ADF attacked Congolese army positions and several neighbourhoods of Beni territory on October 20 which also led to abduction of a dozen children.
Last month, 20 civilians and five Democratic Republic of Congo soldiers were killed by ADF.
Around Beni alone, at least 1,000 civilians have been killed in the past four years.
United Nations estimates that about a million people are currently displaced by the conflict in North Kivu.
Another rebel group active in east of the country is the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, whose leaders are linked to the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda in which almost one million people were killed.
The Congolese ministry of health has now said increase in rebel attacks and militia on health officials fighting the latest Ebola outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri provinces has led to increase in cases of Ebola.
“There have been 170 deaths since the outbreak was declared on August 1,” Jessica Ilunga Congolese spokesperson for health ministry told this SoftPower News on Monday.
The total of probable and confirmed cases has now reached 244, with 63 recovering from infection, according to Congolese ministry of health.
Peter Salama, the WHO’s deputy director-general of emergency preparedness and response said tackling the current crisis in the eastern Congolese provinces of North Kivu and Ituri is the most difficult context “we have ever faced in terms of responding to an Ebola outbreak”.
“Security remains the biggest challenge faced by the response teams in Beni and Butembo, undermining the response activities,” Salama said in a statement last week.
He said the continued insecurity incidents severally impact both civilians and frontline workers, forcing suspension of Ebola activities and increasing the risk that the virus will continue to spread.
Last month the World Health Organisation said the outbreak is expected to last several months and could spread to Uganda or Rwanda. Both countries have increased surveillance at their borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The coordinator of the outbreak response, Dr Ndjoloko Tambwe Bathe, has said people are constantly fleeing in all directions from rebel attacks and this exposes them to the risk of lethal virus.
The current outbreak is concentrated in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces, both experiencing armed attacks killing hundreds and displacing tens of thousands.
Dr Ndjoloko said more than 11,000 people who have come into contact with an infected individual have been traced, with around 5,000 still under surveillance. The ministry said more than 20,000 people have been vaccinated so far.
The mayor of Beni, Nyonyi Masumbuko Bwanakawa, said there are some “pockets” of community members who are reluctant to get vaccinated or take advice from health ministry.
In Butembo, Ituri province, a group of 22 men exhumed the body of an Ebola victim to make sure organs had not been removed from the dead body, and in doing this, they contacted with bodily fluids of the victim. The group has, however accepted to be vaccinated.
“We are teaching people how to avoid Ebola disease and there are some good results now,” Bwanakawa said.
The response to the attacks by the army sometimes is limited as rebel groups attack from different fronts both in North Kivu and Ituri.
“Rebels attack from different fronts, sometimes making it hard for the army to respond. But we are doing everything to defeat the rebels,” Capt. Mak Hazukay, Congolese army spokesperson in North Kivu said.
The army says there is a new rebel movement attacking army positions.
“We are yet to indentify who these attackers are,” says Jules Tshikudi, the army spokesperson in Ituri province.
Congo, the world’s largest source of cobalt, has for more than 20 years struggled to defeat local and foreign militias in the east, which has deposits of tin, gold and coltan.
Meanwhile, Yassin Maki, the 40-year-old father of eight and a resident of Beni but now living in Goma after fleeing his home town said he can’t count how many times he’s been displaced in the last nine months.
“I feel sad. It’s hard to eat and find food for the family here. It’s terrible always moving,” said Maki.