As Pope Francis called for peace during his four-day visit to DR Congo last week, violence continued in the troubled eastern regions of the country.
He was visibly moved to meet with victims of mutilations and rape by armed groups in the east during the Wednesday of his visit to Kinshasa, where he told conflict victims “your tears are my tears”.
The same day, armed men, suspected to be members of the Allied Democratic Forces, killed seven people in a village in the eastern Ituri province’s Irumu territory. Combat between the M23 revolutionary army and state forces continued all last week.
On 4 February, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordination Unit in DR Congo said tens of thousands of people were “trapped in the clutches of armed violence” as rebel forces advanced.
The rebels have already taken several areas, including Kitshanga, a town of around 60,000 people, and Kirolirwe, leaving several thousand people to flee.
On Monday, protests broke out for a third day in Goma, capital of North Kivu in eastern DR Congo, with barricades in the streets.
Protestors called all last weekend for the Regional Force of the Community of East African Member States to take more serious action to stop the advance of the M23 rebels. They also felt the UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo could be more effective.
However, in a more positive development, the heads of state of the East African Community met in Burundi last weekend to address the serious situation in eastern DR Congo that also risks provoking a conflict with Rwanda, accused by the Congolese of providing direct military support to M23 rebels.
The summit, attended by the presidents of DR Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi, ended by calling for an “immediate ceasefire by all parties” and the withdrawal of all armed groups, including foreigners, from the east of DR Congo.
At the end of the papal visit to DR Congo, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa said the visit had drawn the world's attention to violence in Congo and to “what the Pope himself called a silent genocide, a genocide no one wants to talk about”.
This is where people are slaughtered by militias fighting for or financed by those who want to control the country’s vast mineral wealth.