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People In Eastern Congo Forced To Fund The War That Destroys Their Lives, Says Oxfam

This week's fighting in Goma the latest in staggering increase in violence

BOSTON, Nov. 20, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Communities in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are being preyed on mercilessly by rebel groups and local militias, as well as their own government's troops and officials, in a vicious cycle of exploitation and abuse according to a new report by international agency Oxfam.

The report is launched as fight engulfs the town of Goma in North Kivu, displacing at least 50,000 people most of whom had already fled fighting north of Goma earlier this year to find shelter in internally displaced camps in the town.

"Only now with the strategic town of Goma under threat, the world is starting to take notice. But since April the civilian population has been subjected to a staggering increase in killing, rape and extortion," Oxfam America's Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor Noah Gottschalk said.

According to Oxfam, Congolese civilians are not only suffering  violent abuse on a massive scale - including rape, kidnap and murder – but are also being subjected to an unprecedented level of financial exploitation, as belligerents loot and extort illegal taxes in their battle for control.

Evidence gathered recently by Oxfam in a survey of more than 1,300 people in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Province Orientale shows that government soldiers and civilian authorities, including the local police, and armed rebel groups are vying for control over local communities to extort money and goods from them. In some areas such as northern Masisi and southern Lubero, vulnerable communities have become one of the most important sources of income for armed groups.

The crisis in DRC has deteriorated rapidly since April of this year when former CNDP (Congres National pour la Defense du Peuple) soldiers defected to form a new group, the M23 (Mouvement 23). Over the past eight months eastern Congo has seen increased activity among armed groups who consistently rape, kill, kidnap, torture and abuse civilians. Many of these groups are taking advantage of power vacuums left as government troops have moved to fight M23 rebels elsewhere. The most insecure areas are those where rebel groups are fighting for control and the number of contested territories has increased significantly in 2012.

"Ruthless militias and government troops are both mercilessly exploiting local communities to help fund their war," said Oxfam's associate country director, Elodie Martel. "Preying on people has become an extractive industry in which armed groups plunder money, food and whatever other resources they can find. People are leaving their homes everyday to escape the terror of rebel rule and the relentless extortion that makes existence almost impossible as their lives and livelihoods are looted."

The aid agency said exploitation has reached appalling levels with people facing violent forced recruitment, forced labor and continuous illegal taxation. As battles rage back and forth over strategic territory and communities, people are fleeing - many to rapidly growing camps where they are forced to live in terrible conditions with very little help. Since the beginning of the year, 767,000 people in North and South Kivu have left their homes due to conflict.

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