Monday, August 24, 2009

Aid workers feel threats from both sides

Aid workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo hear it from both sides. The government accuses them of being spies from the West, and the rebels accuse them of being spies for the government.

From this AFP story that is hosted at Google News, reporter David Youant asks a humanitarian about the danger.

"Each side accuses us of being spies," said Kapuya, a Kinshasa-area lawyer in his forties who is also coordinator of the Congolese Group for Training and Development (RECOED).

"The militia suspect us of being government agents, and the government accuses us of being spies for Westerners," he said of the conflict in which government forces have been fighting Ugandan and Rwandan rebels for several years, mainly in the northeast.

"We're working between two fires."

With 30 or so members, his non-governmental organisation identifies vulnerable people -- notably women and children caught up in the warfare -- and steers them towards international aid groups for help.

It works out of Ituri, in Orientale province, the northeast corner of Congo -- one of the most unstable parts of the country, where several armed groups have been active for a decade.

Working under a blanket of suspicion "does not make our task easy, because we are obliged to work clandestinely in some areas, especially those areas in which there is great insecurity," Kapuya said.

"If you're suddenly found to be gathering information from local people, you risk getting shot," he added. "The slightest suspicion ... and anything can happen. You need a lot of willpower to go into those areas."

"What's more, there's the fact that you cannot tell a militia fighter from a mere villager. They have melted into the population and it can happen that you're unknowingly riding a taxi scooter driven by a militiaman."

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