By Spy Uganda Correspondent
DRC: Militia attacks on Monday disrupted the start of school final exams in DR Congo’s volatile East with hundreds of students fleeing violence and some girls raped by the attackers, officials said.
The school-leaving exams had already been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic and began on Monday.
In Sud-Kivu province, about 700 students and their teachers fled after fighting near an exam center in Haut Uele, near the border with South Sudan, Nyange Saluba, an official with a civil society group said.
Saluba said the attack was staged by the Banyamulenge militia – a group of Congolese Tutsis that has been waging war for several months.
“We have chased them away,” Captain Dieudonne Kasereka, the local army spokesman said, adding that the attackers wanted to “sabotage the exams.”
Several hundred kilometers (miles) further north, a group of armed men staged an overnight attack on a center housing 32 students at Isiro, the main city of the Haut-Uele province.
The 16 boys and 16 girls “had been gathered here to sit for the exam,” local priest Georges Semende said. “These bandits raped the girls,” he said.
The local governor’s spokesman, Felicien Nangana, confirmed one rape.
“Despite this trauma, they agreed to take the exam,” the priest said, adding that the authorities had launched an investigation.
On Thursday, armed men attacked an examination center, killing two primary students and wounding two others.
The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the school calendar in the country, where over half of the over 80 million population is aged under 20.
However, some human rights activists believe that the action was geared by the previous incidents where the Banyamulenge tribe in DR Congo’s highlands of South Kivu Province were killed in broad daylight and the world remained silent on the Congolese actions.
“For example, on April 19, Banyamulenge women moved out of their houses to their gardens to harvest food for stocking under the lockdown. As a routine, they are escorted by Congolese army and allowed a few minutes in the gardens” HR activist in DRC said.
On the same fateful day, a group of Banyamulenge women in the highlands of Fizi, Mwenga and Uvira were pounced on while in their gardens by DRC armed groups.
They were brutally raped and mutilated. Some of them died. Others managed to escape. Many others are still missing.
Charles Mukiza, the leader of Banyamulenge Community living in Kinshasa issued a statement denouncing the acts of barbarity, killings and rape that members of his tribe continue to suffer.
He implored the justice system, both civil and military, to carry out meticulous investigations. “The community is seeking justice for the victims. They demand that the perpetrators of these cruel and inhuman acts be punished.”
Banyamulenge have lived in the DR Congo for centuries but for a long time were not recognized as citizens of this vast mineral rich state. Former President Mobutu Seseseko signed a decree granting the Banyamulenge tribe an irrevocable citizenship.
But since then, other tribes in the DR Congo keep harassing Banyamulenge, claiming they are not Congolese and that they should return to their country of origin.
According to the Central African Observatory, Banyamulenge are people from the former Kingdom of Rwanda.
“The Banyamulenge are Congolese,” President Felix Tshisekedi said in January during an interaction session with diaspora in London, UK.
The province of South Kivu is infested with many armed groups, in particular the Raïa Mutomboki in the territories of Shabunda and Mwenga, the Mayi-Mayi in the territories of Uvira and Fizi, the inter-ethnic conflict in the high plateaux of Bijombo, Minembwe and Itombwe, and many other groups.
Boniface Balamage, the Second Vice President DR Congo Parliament also from South Kivu, in March while on holiday in Kivu gathered provincial leaders to collectively discuss the insecurity problem in the region.
“The war that is going on in the highlands of Minembwe is not justified. We must begin to understand that it is time to make peace to give peace to the people and to secure our territory, our province,” he said.
Balamage challenged provincial leaders on what they have done to put an end to this situation with regard to their responsibilities, whether central government or the provincial government.
According to the Congolese Army, this region hosts various armed groups, especially the foreign rebel forces CNRD, FDLR (Rwandan rebels) and FNL (From Burundi)
The armed groups are mostly active in Uvira, Fizi and Mwenga areas and claim to be members of local communities. They clash regularly and have already displaced over 50,000 people, hundreds of them dead and villages burned down. Military efforts in the region have failed to overcome the violence.
National Liberation Forces (FNL) is a Burundian rebel group the crossed into South Kivu where they created rear bases to fight the Burundian armed forces. The FNL is currently in an alliance with Mai Mai Yakutumba and FDLR in South Kivu.
The FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) is the largest illegal foreign armed group operating in the DR Congo.