October 17 2002
SOS Children's Villages in the DR Congo threatened by fighting
22/10/2002 - At the beginning of the week, rebel groups gained control of Uvira as armed conflict flared up again in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The SOS Children's Village facilities in Uvira have been partly damaged, so far there are no casualties. If the situation worsens, the children and co-workers will have to evacuate to neighbouring Burundi.
Mayi-Mayi rebels, fighting above all in the Kivu region against "Tutsi dominance", gained control of Uvira on the banks of Lake Tanganyika on Sunday. SOS Children's Villages has been running an emergency village for war orphans and abandoned children in Uvira since 1997. The original aim was to reunite children with their families. Almost 200 children, whose families could not be found, are now living in the SOS emergency relief village, which also includes a kindergarten, a school and a youth facility.
The kindergarten and the school have had to suspend classes, as have all public institutions in the town. According to the most recent reports received from SOS co-workers, the youth facility and village director's house have been damaged and plundered during the fighting. Because the markets have also closed in Uvira, food shortages threaten the town. The SOS emergency relief village has supplies for two weeks.
The families in the village are not leaving their houses for security reasons. Many people have already fled in fear of attack over the border into Burundi. Co-workers at the emergency village are preparing for a possible evacuation to SOS Children's Village Bujumbura in Burundi. If this happens, Burundi government troops will provide support.
The situation is also critical at SOS Children's Village Bukavu, located approximately 120 km north of Uvira. The fighting here is somewhat less intense, however uncertainty is great among the children and co-workers. "We know that anything can happen, and at any time," summed up one co-worker. Fears are heightened by the fact that the village is located near a military camp. Therefore a curfew has also been imposed at SOS Children's Village Bukavu, and village supplies stocked up.
During the past years, the Kivu region in the east of Congo has repeatedly been the scene of bloody conflict between various militia groups and troops, which have cost a countless number of civilian lives and led to mass movements of refugees. In spite of the peace agreement signed on 30 July this year between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo and the withdrawal of Rwandan and Ugandan troops, the situation continues to be unstable and has recently escalated.
First contacts between Zaire, as it was known back then, and SOS Children's Villages were made around 15 years ago. The misery of abandoned and suffering children in this country characterised by civil war and bloody power struggles was immense. In 1988 the country's first SOS Children's Village was established in Bukavu, and additional facilities followed. The children and co-workers in Bukavu have been suffering from the repeated unrest and violent conflict since the mid 1990s. In 1996 the village was partly occupied and a child was killed. Because of the high demand for medical supplies, the services provided by the medical centre were extended. In 1997 an SOS Emergency Relief Programme was launched in Uvira for children who had lost their parents in the confusion caused by the war. The unstable situation has hindered the construction of a permanent SOS Children's Village in Uvira, which was planned for 2001.