Fear and trauma haunt Congo massacre survivors

Alexis Huguet –
Wounded in the head and chest and with her children in tow, Miniunga Bonkita fled to the haven of an island in the Congo River, a sliver of land between two nations.
“I stumbled across the assailants as I was returning home,” the young mother said.
“They shot at me,” she said. “I fell and then they started beating me.”
More than 500 fellow members of the Banunu community were slaughtered on December 16-17 in Yumbi, a remote region in western DR Congo — a massacre whose full details are only now emerging, almost two months later.
Bonkita found refuge with her children and about 100 other Banunus on Moniende island in the river that has given its name to countries on both banks: the Democratic Republic of Congo, once ruled by Belgium, and the Republic of Congo, a former French colony.
Yumbi, located in Mai-Ndombi province, lies about 400 km north of Kinshasa, reached by a difficult two-day boat trip from the capital.
Almost all the victims were members of the Banunu ethnic group, hunted down by armed men from the Batende community.
Authorities have presented the killings as an act of spontaneous violence — tensions between rival communities that exploded in a dispute over the burial of a Banunu tribal chief.
But several sources in the area said the bloodbath was carefully planned. At least 16,000 people have fled over the river to the Republic of Congo.
AFP reached Bongende, the worst-hit of four villages in Yumbi, with at least 339 residents slain.
Almost two months after the attack, the fishing village was almost completely deserted.
The houses have been burned down, looted and destroyed, and the silence is heavy.
The slaughter also meant the postponement in Yumbi of the December 30 presidential election, long awaited in the vast country.
The killings have been blamed officially on the row over the burial of a tribal chief, but local people say there is a deep-rooted rivalry over resources.
The Batende lay claim to ownership of the land in Yumbi.
“The Banunu came here after us. They don’t want to respect our traditional rights,” said Ejekiel Mabiala, head of the Batende community at Molende, south of Yumbi.
Eyewitness accounts suggest the attacks were not only premeditated but had support from local authorities and elements within the security forces. — AFP