In DRCongo's east, displacement is a way of life
(NYAMIBUNGU) - Violence of one sort or another has been part of life here in the eastern province of Sud Kivu for virtually as long as Baudoin Baleke Wabuya, a local administrator, can remember.
"The violence has been continuous," he said, sitting under a tree as the first flashes of lightning lit up the evening sky and storm clouds gathered.
"We had the Mai-Mai militia in Mobutu's day, the Rwandan invasion and now we have pockets of Rwandan rebels in the bush. When people have some grievance they go into the bush and the whole thing starts again."
The Rwandans he referred to are the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a group of Hutu rebel fighters that has been present in the region under one name or another for the best part of two decades.
Conflict in the region has tended to be atrocities against the civilian population by diverse armed groups, rather than frontline combat between warring factions.
In Nyamibungu village, down a road so muddy it is accessible only by bike, motorbike or on foot, Pierre Wangozi Lutula, 64, sits in the house provided for him by the local church. He, his wife and their eighty-year-old neighbour Zaina Mombo have fled twice in the past 10 years.
They most recently fled the village of Kululu, two hours away from Nyamibungu on foot, following clashes there last year between FDLR and Raia Mutomboki.
Prior to that, in 2002, they had fled another village, Mulungu and walked for seven days to reach Kululu after their home in Mulungu was looted.
"We didn't carry anything with us because everything had been looted," Lutula explained, his eyes bloodshot from the dust.
"At my age I was ashamed to be fleeing and I didn't have the strength for the walk," said Mombo, smiling to show missing teeth.
Lutula says the local people gave them a good welcome when they arrived carrying their smallest children. Their major problem in Nyamibungu is that they own no land. They therefore either have to buy food or rent land on which to cultivate food.
In neighbouring Kitutu, Kungwa Kyalwa, a strikingly attractive woman of 23, sits in a hut so cramped that one wonders how she, her mother and her three small children fit into it to sleep.
She fled her home village of Kambulumbulu in 2010 after the FDLR raped her and four other women who were working in the fields before looting the village.
"The Hutus came and they burned the village. Five of us were raped. Some of our neighbours have already gone home. Me I would like to stay here but we don't have a plot of land," she said.
She said she had initially been stigmatised as a rape victim but that the villagers now accepted her.
"It is very clear there is still a flare of violence that affects the lives of people," the European Union's Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid Kristalina Georgieva told a press conference at the end of a visit to the region earlier this month.
"People say the number of armed groups is increasing. People say more than 20 armed groups are operating here. They are mostly in very remote areas and we have no accurate knowledge of how many are affected," she told AFP.
Constance Mukemba, who also fled to Nyamibungu, had her husband taken by Raia Mutomboki, a new homeland defence militia whose agenda is to get all Kinyarwanda speakers out of DRC, but which also seizes the villagers it purports to be protecting, using them as porters.
This situation is leading to "a risk of a build up of IDPs," Georgieva said. In December and January alone a total of 128,000 people were pushed out of their homes, in a country that counts a total of 1.8 million displaced.
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