A team from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum recently traveled to eastern Congo, where they collected testimonies from survivors of the ongoing conflict. In a powerful recent post on World Is Witness, Michael Graham described a village in the wake of an attack by the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army.
Our MI-17 transport helicopter rumbles to life and lifts up from the UN base outside of Dungu, above American-made Humvees parked next to piles of supplies and prefabricated offices squatting alongside the dirt runway. UN staff in blue Kevlar and helmets buckled in next to me put on a jovial air, but there is an undercurrent of tension. We are flying into the heart of Lord’s Resistance Army territory, just a few miles from their former base in Garamba National Park.
The UN peacekeeping operation in Congo, MONUC, is opening a base in Duru to be staffed by Moroccan soldiers arriving by road. Charged with protection, MONUC soldiers and Congolese army troops are ill-equipped to combat the LRA, and hard pressed to protect civilians from the lean and mobile rebels who are masters at navigating this vast and inhospitable terrain.
We touch down on long grass, surrounded by Moroccan soldiers who secured the field moments before, and duck under helicopter blades.
I walk over with Congolese army guards past a razed church, a muddy water hole and refugee families huddled under makeshift huts, and arrive at the village’s elementary school.
The first thing I notice are the school’s doors. Bright green, they have been scrawled upon by the LRA soldiers who attacked Duru last December, with the students’ own colorful chalk. Ghastly depictions of a woman being killed, words of gloating and warning to the Congolese army, promises of retribution. A disturbing display of pride in workmanship.
In this case, their work was to abduct children and teachers alike from the school after razing the town, killing dozens and burning down the church. At least 65 children were taken, according to Human Rights Watch interviews. Locals say they took many more.
I step carefully inside the door of the second grade classroom, its hinges hacked and broken off by a machete. The floor is strewn with the torn out pages of French notebooks, the tiny wooden desks now occupied only by wasps. The teacher’s morning message to his students lies untouched on the chalkboard. Above this, written on the chalkboard’s frame, a simple request.
“kill kony please”
Many experts believe Joseph Kony will never agree to peace, that the military solution needs to be pushed to completion and the LRA leadership destroyed after 20 years of bringing untold misery to the people of Uganda, Congo, and the region. But without real protection of civilians by the UN peacekeeping mission as well as the Congolese Army, such operations are sure to result in many more Congolese bearing the brunt of Kony’s revenge.
To learn more about Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army and find out how you can take part in helping to end the LRA’s long and brutal reign, visit Enough’s special page.