The five-page document with 93 signatures and the official stamps of Du Nord Province and Walikale arrived in the inbox yesterday. It is a letter from leaders of Walikale, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to the government of newly elected president Joseph Kabila, and other members of the international community, including the United Nations.
The people of Walikale are terrified because members of the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR), Hutu remnants of the 1994 Rwandan genocidaires, have put 49 citizens on an assassination list. The list includes cultural leaders, chiefs, local government officials, businessmen and women, and political leaders.
The letter also says that when the people of Walikale have previously asked for help from the Kabila government in Kinshasa, “Congolese forces arrive and engage in violent and inhumane treatment of the people of Walikale.”
Three weeks ago an FDLR officer, Colonel Evariste aka Colonel Sadiki, was murdered. The FDLR is accusing a Mai Mai rebel leader, “Sheka,” of the assassination. This was confirmed by the Afroamerica Network. Colonel Sadiki was the only FDLR commander who had managed to become independent from the general command. He was commanding an almost autonomous battalion known as “Sadiki Soleil.”The alleged killing of Sadiki by Sheka was payment for betrayal after Sadiki captured some of Sheka’s Mai Mai fighters and turned them over to authorities. According to a report by a UN Panel, the FDLR and Mai-Mai were once allies, conducting joint military operations– one of which was mass murders and rapes near the villages of Kibua and Luvungi.
No one is saying who ordered the hit on Colonel Sadiki, but the FDLR intends to exact revenge upon the villagers of Walikale and has given advance notice of targeted killings.
Support for Sheka in Walikale is chequered, with locals mostly unwilling to openly speak about their political alliances, fearing reprisals. A local source explained that many residents still see Sheka as defending the community from marauding foreign fighters from Rwanda.
But a local teacher from Walikale told Al Jazeera that Sheka had caused enough damage to people’s lives and that he would not support him, while a mobile phone vendor sitting just metres from rally said that Sheka ought to be apprehended for his crimes.
So far neither the United Nations, the Kabila government, the US State Department, human rights groups, nor journalists have done anything to publicize or stop the threatened retaliatory massacre.
The accused assassin, Ntabo Ntaberi “Sheka,” was running for one of two seats in the Walikale district of North Kivu province. Anneke van Woudenberg from Human Rights Watch told Al Jazeera last month that it was “outrageous that Sheka could simply walk into Walikale in full view of the police and hold a rally”.
Van Woudenberg said that the very fact that Sheka is standing in the elections with such severe charges lodged against him, brings together the vast myriad of problems facing the DRC, including impunity, blood minerals, the proliferation of weapons and gender violence.
Are some citizens of Walikale protecting the local Mai Mai militia or are all simply victims of the endless conflict between armed groups operating a proxy war for minerals between Rwanda, Congo, and Uganda? The answer does not negate the fact that the world community is now aware of a potential massacre.
Watch Sheka as he threatens an Aljazeera reporter with a beating at timecode 1:40.
In an email correspondence with one of the Walikale community leaders, who is also a signatory on the cry for help, despair is written between the lines.
MONUSCO has not responded and I feel as if it did not even react. All indications are that the protection of civilians is a simple slogan. Sheka the rebel is still alive. We learn that it is not far from the capital of Walikale. We are poor and victims of our hospitality vis-à-vis the Rwandan refugees. Only God can help us and free ourselves from this situation.
MONUSCO is the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The leader went on to ask a favor. “I beg you to (conduct a) widespread dissemination of the document. There may be others (who will) come to the rescue.”
Walikale has been asking for a miraculous rescue since 1994, when the Rwandan genocide spilled across the border into DRC and has continued, unabated, since then. In the quest for conflict minerals, and in the midst of proxy wars for those minerals, the international community has failed miserably to stop the holocaust of over five million in DRC. Now, there is an opportunity to protect the lives of 49 Congolese, who have been put on a well-publicized assassination list, and still no one is lifting a finger or voicing concern.
It is doubtful that God will come to the rescue, either. It seems God is sleeping when it comes to the millions of deaths in DRC.
“The FDLR is committing the worst and unforgivable crime before the people of Walikale and God,” the letter reads.
Human rights groups have documented how armed militias and the Congolese armed forces have displaced hundreds of thousands of people in North and South Kivu for years. These militias “have forced civilians from their homes and lands, looted their properties, and punished them for suspected collaboration with enemy groups,” says Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The publicized list of assassination targets in Walikale demands that human rights groups be proactive and not wait until the atrocity has occurred before investigating. It is one thing to spend months documenting “what actually happened” in the immediate aftermath of massacres, and another to stop it. This should be a moral imperative. Civilians deserve protection.
God may be sleeping, but the international community is now conscious of this matter. While Walikale is waiting for the world and God to wake up, officials are urging people living deep in the villages to gather or in towns or in more populated areas to shield themselves from an impending massacre.