06 August 2006

Unrest and violence in Congo

On the far side of the front line, are left to their fate. The proxy armies are there. The children with guns, scavenging and killing and maiming and cannibalising.

One, at least, wears the testicles of a UN soldier they captured, brandishing them as a talisman. Another remembers the taste of his liver. A third has tied another UN soldier's penis to his wrist. Others simply stubbed their ganja butts on the mutilated bodies.

Some other stories of violence, cannibalism in Congo

Kakule Muzekiana, wiry and bearded, belongs to the Nande tribe. He has an uncle wealthy enough to own a chainsaw and was out logging at around the time when the Movement for the Liberation of Congo slaughtered Amuzati's family as the rebel army surged through the jungle toward Beni. Kakule and his two helpers were surrounded by a squad of eight M.L.C. soldiers. At gunpoint, the rebels ordered two of the loggers to hold the third to the ground. Then the squad's commander took off his red beret. He inverted it, put it back on his head with the black side facing outward and yanked a knife across the throat of Kakule's assistant. He cut the tongue from below and pulled it out through the throat; he cut the belly down the middle and claimed the liver; he stripped off the trousers so he could slice off the testicles and penis. One of his squad hacked up the body. The commander gave Kakule his knife, told him to pare the skin from an arm, a leg. He told Kakule and his other assistant to build a fire. From their satchels, the soldiers brought cassava bread. They sat in a circle. The commander placed the dead man's head at the center. He forced the two loggers to sit with them, to eat with them the pieces of boiled limb. The grilled liver, tongue and genitals had already been parceled out among the commander and his troops.
Afterward, the commander restored his beret to normal. The rebels headed off single-file along a jungle trail. The two loggers were made to march directly behind the commander, who, within 50 yards and without voicing any instruction, disappeared into the underbrush. Someone from the back took his place in the lead; the march continued without pause. Then the new leader, too, veered and vanished. It went on this way, in this steady pattern of evanescence, until Kakule and his helper were left alone in the forest.
As we sat in a shanty in a village north of Beni, Kakule, recounting what had happened, could not be completely sure of the soldiers' reasons for cannibalism. Congo is about two-thirds the size of Western Europe, the M.L.C. originated in a distant part and Kakule could not comprehend the tribal language the soldiers spoke much of the time. But his explanation echoed the understanding I heard repeatedly from his countrymen: that eating the flesh, especially the organs, of your enemy is a way to augment your own power.

Fetishism can't explain why, according to testimony given to U.N. investigators, M.L.C. troops forced one woman to eat from her husband's corpse. It can't explain why some victims were ordered to swallow their own ears or toes, why Kakule had to eat the less desirable parts of his assistant's body alongside his captors or why, after the butchering of a Protestant priest, others were forced to pay money or eat his flesh -- or be butchered themselves. The inflicting of vengeance and spreading of terror -- aspects of war that are as modern as they are ancient -- have played a part in Congo's cannibalism. A Human Rights Watch report released in July suggests that ''perpetrators have found that fear of cannibalism terrorizes victims more effectively into compliance with their orders than does the simple fear of death, so frequently faced in daily life.''

But in May, two United Nations military observers stationed in northeastern Congo at an outpost near Bunia, a town not far from Beni, were killed by a local tribal militia. The peacekeepers' bodies were split open and their hearts, livers and testicles taken -- common signs of cannibalism. Battles for control of Bunia last spring, waged between the Lendu tribe and their rivals, the Hema, left more signs. To follow the U.N.'s news bulletins about Congo is to come across lines like this: ''Mayi-Mayi militiamen accused of cannibalism were disarmed last weekend in the Haut Lomani District'' in the country's southeast. And in a recently released report, U.N. investigators documented 12 incidents of cannibalism during the failed rebel advance on Beni -- by an army from yet another region of the country -- that overtook Amuzati's family late last fall.

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