30,000 refugees fled in panic through the hills. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) does not believe the camps themselves were targeted, according to information supplied by MONUC.
Meanwhile, in an absolutely stunning disconnect of priorities, conservation groups have been spewing out press notices that IKONOS satellite photos have been donated to them to monitor gorilla habitat. This, while 30,000 people are fleeing from gunfire n the region.
“GeoEye, Inc. a leading producer of satellite, aerial and geospatial information, recently announced the Foundation's donation of more than 1,000 square kilometers of high-resolution, IKONOS satellite imagery to international conservation groups to aid in gorilla preservation efforts. The recent massacre of a family of mountain gorillas in Africa's Virunga National Park prompted increased attention to this area, the home of 60 percent of the
world's gorilla population,” the press release reads.
Conservation organizations are all over themselves on the internet and listservs promoting this, while the most exploited people on the planet are suffering unimaginable horrors. Where is the mainstream media in a critical analysis of this?
Kivu is in danger of becoming a killing field of humans once again—forget the gorillas and especially the conservation groups that are contributing to the horrors in Kivu.
In February of this year, I sat at a dinner table with Robert Muir of the Frankfurt Zoological society, who is directly involved with Wild Life Direct, and Robert Poppe, who is not working with the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature to secure funding for zoo animals.
Muir said, "We now have Nkunda where we want him."
What are these "conservationists" really doing in the region?
“The situation is dramatic and critical as tens of thousands of internally displaced persons from the camps, mixed with local people who are also fleeing the fighting, jam roads leading to Goma under torrential rains,” UNHCR said in a press release.
According to reports from the area, thousands of people hauling tarpaulins, blankets and food silently trudged down the main road to Goma in the downpour.
"There was loud gunfire. I fled with my four children but I don't know where to go," said Marie Katungu, a woman in her thirties surrounded by three of her children, as reported in a MONUC press release.
At Mungungu, the camps were almost deserted. Stragglers nearby hesitated to leave while others said they had returned but were prevented by the army from entering the camps. Many appeared terrified, MONUC said.
The refugees had been housed at five United Nations-run camps in and around the provincial capitol of Goma. In recent months, at least 375,000 Congolese have been forced to run for their lives from their homes in North Kivu Province—the scene of a continuing bloodbath since 1994.
UN peacekeeping forces have been deployed in the area to protect the refugees, but the situation remains critical.
"MONUC (the UN mission in DRC) has strengthened its forces in the Mugunga sector," where three camps housed displaced people in appalling conditions to the west of the provincial capital Goma, MONUC spokesman Kemal Saiki said in Kinshasa.
In all, about 60 soldiers with armoured vehicles have been deployed in the battle zone and around the camps "to protect civilians" and their units were on maximum alert, Saiki told the press.
DR Congo army Colonel Delphin Kahimbi said "27 insurgents were killed" when the forces loyal to General Laurent Nkunda, "had the objective of massacring the displaced in Mugunga."
He also said a second force of Nkunda's fighters had moved against "Rusayo (further south) with Goma as the goal."
Nkunda denied being involved in the Mugunga attacks, blaming them on rebel Rwandan Hutus who have long lived on the DR Congo side of the border, the UN's radio Okapi reported.
For the United Nations, "what concerns us above all is the humanitarian situation," Saiki said. "Once again, civilians have been forced to flee in their thousands in deplorable conditions."
Nord-Kivu in eastern DR Congo has been the site of confrontations between the Congolese army and insurgents backing Nkunda in recent months.
In turn, Nkunda's troops also appear to have hardened their stance, a UN official said.
"There is now with Nkunda -- who is more and more isolated -- a will to sow terror, to destabilise, to attack civilians more openly," the official said.
Georgianne Nienaber has been an investigative environmental writer for more than thirty years and wrote a column for the Rwandan New Times. She lives in rural northern Minnesota. Recent articles have appeared in India's TerraGreen, COA News, The Journal of the International Primate Protection League, Africa Front, The United Nations Publication, A Civil Society Observer, AllAfrica.com, and Zimbabwe's The Daily Mirror. Her fiction exposé of insurance fraud in the horse industry, Horse Sense, was re-released in early 2006. Gorilla Dreams: The Legacy of Dian Fossey was also released in 2006. She recently worked on the Coleen Rowley for Congress campaign, doing press and campaign events and just returned from Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. She was in DRC as a MONUC-accredited journalist. Nienaber got acquainted with the music biz at Chicago's WLS radio after college and before Africa grabbed her attention. Her first interview was with Grace Slick who reminisced about her days as a card punch operator before Jefferson Airplane took her away.
Note: I dislike using this photo illustration which I took in February in Goma--but it gets attention for the atrocities--perhaps this child can be the messenger. G. Nienaber