On the night of April 17, 2009, Rwandan Hutu militia, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) attacked Luofu and Kasiki villages in the southern Lubero territory of North Kivu province in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo killing at least seven civilians, including five young children who burned to death in their homes. At least seven other civilians were injured and 300 houses were burned to the ground. The following photos and eyewitness accounts were gathered by Human Rights Watch researchers who were in Luofo village the day after the attacks.
Congolese army soldiers positioned in both Luofu and Kasiki reportedly put up little or no resistance and fled, along with the local residents and thousands of displaced persons who had sought refugee in the two villages from previous waves of violence in the past two months.
The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo, MONUC, had a temporary operating base in Luofu but it was removed on April 12. On the night of the attack, a MONUC patrol arrived in Luofo two hours after the attack from its nearest base in Kanyabayonga, 22 kilometers south-east, after the FDLR had already fled. No MONUC patrol made it to Kasiki, where at least 45 houses were burned to the ground and one man was shot to death by the FDLR.
The FDLR had sent a warning earlier on April 17 that Luofu would be attacked. No precautionary measures were taken by government soldiers or MONUC to protect civilians in case the threat was carried out. While fleeing Luofo, many residents heard further threats from the FDLR that the towns of Kayna and Kirumba, seven kilometers east of Luofo, would be next.
The FDLR attacks on Luofo and Kasiki appeared to be deliberate reprisals against the population. A few days earlier, the Congolese army and MONUC launched Operation Kimia II, a joint military operation to defeat the FDLR rebels. Similar reprisal killings have been documented by Human Rights Watch in other areas of North Kivu.
As operations against the FDLR move forward, MONUC and the Congolese army should take urgent measures to ensure that all key population centers close to the frontline, including those harboring large numbers of displaced people such as Kirumba and Kayna, are protected from reprisal attacks by FDLR forces.
Accounts from victims and witnesses, Luofo and Kasiki villages:
Father of three young boys (ages 3, 4, and 6) burned to death in their home:
The FDLR came and circled my house. When we tried to leave, they said, "You can't leave or we'll kill you." I was able to move out a bit and get some distance from the house, but my three young boys were still inside, sleeping on a single bed. Then I saw the FDLR combatants light a fire directly on my house and my three boys burned to death.
Father of a 2-year-old girl burned to death in their home:
The FDLR circled our house and told us to leave. My wife, three of my children, and I rushed to get out, but our two-year-old daughter did not make it out in time. They set fire to the house immediately, and my daughter and all our belongings were burned to the ground.
Man in Luofu whose house was burned:
The FDLR came to my house and started to beat me badly. They took my phone and everything I had on me. Then they set fire to my house and I quickly ran away. But now my house and all my belongings are gone. I'm left with nothing and don't know where to go.
Displaced person from Lushoa who had sought safety in Luofu:
I was in my house when the FDLR arrived. They told us to leave, so we ran into the bush and our house was burned as we fled. I returned at 5a.m. this morning. I was forced to leave my home village of Lushoa and after soldiers burnt down our houses earlier this year. I was then displaced to Bwavinyo where I stayed for three weeks. After Congolese army soldiers killed three people in Bwavinyo during a looting operation, I fled to Luofu. And now my house here has been burned.
Witness from Kasiki village, also burned by the FDLR:
The FDLR bandits came to our village at 8 p.m. last night and burned about 50 houses. One man was shot to death. The government soldiers were there but they all fled. MONUC never came. We fled to the bush and came back one or two hours later. The FDLR had left by then, and the village was in flames.
Woman from Luofu:
I was inside my house when I heard the first gunshots. I heard people destroying the stores and boutiques. Then I heard people shouting, "Wake up! Wake up!" I looked outside and saw the Interhamwe [FDLR] burning the house behind mine. Then [they] tore off the cloth which I had wrapped around my body and I was left naked. They set fire to my house and told me to run. I grabbed my child and ran, still naked. The gunshots continued. There were lots of people hiding in the bush, and we were bit by mosquitoes all night long.