More than 100 demobilized militia fighters and their family members have died from starvation and disease in a remote military camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Wednesday.
The demobilized fighters belonged to armed groups that remained active in eastern DRC after the end of a civil war more than a decade ago.
Some 941 surrendered fighters and several hundred family members were sent to the camp in September 2013 to wait for integration into the military or into civilian life.
Supplies ran out by the end of the year and the government only sent minimal food and medicine.
People “looked like the photos of famine in Somalia and Ethiopia,” a 23-year-old former combatant told HRW, adding that up to five bodies could be buried in one day.
The demobilized fighters were kept in Kotakoli because of delays and donor hesitation to finance the demobilization programme, Defence Minister Alexandre Luba Ntambo told HRW.
“We did not voluntarily choose for these people to go hungry or to see them die, but we had difficulties getting them the basic provisions,” Ntambo was quoted as saying. The government has said it is investigating the situation in the camp.
Many of the demobilized fighters belonged to the M23 group, which was defeated by the army and a United Nations special intervention brigade in November 2013.
Short for the Movement of March 23, the group was formed in early 2012 when nearly 300 Congolese soldiers turned against the government, citing poor conditions in the army and accusing it of reneging on a 2009 peace deal with the National Congress for the Defence of the People, a militia active in the east of the country.