Friday, June 13, 2008

Abuse On Angola-Congo Border

A new wave of deportees has arrived in Kasai Occidental province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (the setting for Heart of Diamonds) from the diamond mining region in Angola. Most of the women among the 27,000 people expelled by the Angolans have been sexually abused, according to local health officials.

"There are many injured people and 80 percent of the women had been raped," according to Pierre Didi Mpata, a doctor and director of an NGO running a local health center in Kamako, a village near the Congolese border with Angola not far from Mai-Munene where much of the story in Heart of Diamonds takes place. Some 5,000 refuges now crowd Kamako. The UN mission in DRC, MONUC, reports 22,230 more DRC citizens were sent back from Angola in the last two weeks. They are now between Kahungua and Tembo, some 95 kilometers from the Angolan border.

Mpata was quoted in a UN Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) report that among the people who had been sexually abused was Caroline Lomelo (not her real name), a mother of two.

"I was badly beaten up and raped by five Angolan police officers when they forcefully expelled us," she said. Lomelo returned to the DRC five days ago from Angola. According to Mpata, Lomelo can barely stand because she has a sexually transmitted infection. She is also six months pregnant.

"She is in danger of having an abortion because of the [gonorrhoea] infection she contracted," Mpata said.

Lomelo, who was training to be a nurse, said she had gone to Angola from her home town of Lodja, in the central province of Kasai Oriental, to look for her brother.

The Angolan authorities began to expel illegal immigrants from the country in December 2003, targeting illegal workers in its diamond mines near the border with the DRC. Previous mass expulsions in the area had been halted by an agreement between the two countries. In December 2007, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) denounced "the pervasive and systematic use of rape and violence perpetrated by the Angolan army during the expulsions of Congolese migrants working in diamond mines in the Angolan province of Lunda Norte".

The current wave of expelled immigrants have nothing and are exhausted after walking at least 100 kilometers from Angola where they were living in churches and schools where supplies of basic items were inadequate. "It's a miracle they survived," Mpata said.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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