KINSHASA, Congo (AP) – Aid workers declared “a humanitarian catastrophe” on Wednesday in southeastern Congo, and blamed the recent deaths of at least 25 people on a feared warlord who broke out of jail late last year.
Kyungu “Gedeon” Mutanga’s return to his fief in northern Katanga province has caused villagers to flee their homes by the thousands, and children are now starting to die of malnutrition due to their precarious living conditions, according to a survey by the African Association for the Defense of Human Rights.
The aid group said at least 12,500 people were displaced and 10 women had been raped by Mutanga’s Mai Mai militia. At least 1,000 children are malnourished, and in a four-day period earlier this month, 19 infants and toddlers died of acute malnutrition in the refugee settlements. Another six women died in childbirth during the same period between Jan. 13 and Jan. 16 because of the lack of proper medical care, said the group’s field officer Jean-Claude Baka.
“There is no humanitarian assistance for these displaced people. They are living in little makeshift shelters,” Baka said. “As of Jan. 17, 10 women _ including eight from Kyiyongo and two from Kapanda _ had already been raped by members of Gedeon’s Mai Mai.”
Mutanga was sentenced to death in 2009 for rape and crimes against humanity. On Sept. 7, 2011, he broke out of jail in the provincial capital of Lubumbashi and returned to the northern part of the province. He remains at large despite a $100,000 bounty placed on his head by the government.
“Kyungu Mutanga is at the root of a humanitarian catastrophe in Katanga,” said the aid group in a statement released to reporters.
Dikanga Kazadi, minister of the interior for the province, said that panic was spreading through the population, but that it was too early to speak of a humanitarian crisis.
“We are in the process of evaluating,” he said. “The minister of the interior is in touch with its aid partners to send assistance quickly. At the same time, we are preparing a counterattack against these bandits.”
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