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Aid group estimates war-related death toll in east Congo at 2 million

Body bag
The International Rescue Committee is trying to determine how many people have died as a result of two years of war  

June 21, 2000
Web posted at: 10:49 p.m. EDT (0249 GMT)

In this story:

Refugees 'extremely vulnerable'

'We are really starving here ...'


BUKAVU, Democratic Republic of the Congo (CNN) -- A refugee agency says nearly 2 million people have died in two years of war in eastern Congo.

The agency -- International Rescue Committee -- sent a team of interviewers to the region to go door-to-door trying to determine how many people have died as a result of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

  RESOURCES In-Depth Specials - Counting the dead in Congo

The doctor who led the team says the vast majority of deaths in the conflict are not from bullets or machetes.

"The rate of death -- when people were hiding in the bush -- skyrocketed compared to normal times because people have no food," said Les Roberts, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University.

Refugees 'extremely vulnerable'

"They have no water vessel, so if they found a spring they could drink there out of the spring, but they couldn't carry any water with them," he said. "And if you're hiding in the bush and moving all the time, having no extra clothes, no bedding, no anything -- makes you extremely vulnerable."

As a result, many of those who managed to flee the fighting died of disease and hunger.

One unidentified woman that the agency interviewed said she fled her hometown on foot, walking 50 miles through a forest and over a mountain with her infant child to get to the relative safety of Bukavu.

Her hometown is a center of the Congolese diamond trade, one reason it's become a battleground for the many armies and factions fighting in Congo.

Rwanda and Uganda both joined the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo in support of rebels fighting the government of President Laurent Kabila.

But Rwanda and Uganda now support different rebel factions. Since last August, the two nations have struggled for control of Kisangani, a center of the diamond trade.

The refugee mother said she knows five men who were killed: "Four of them were my brothers ...two were shot dead, two had their throats slit. And the fifth died of malaria in the forest when we were coming this way."

Treatable illness can turn deadly with the depreciation of health care in eastern Congo's war zone  

'We are really starving here ...'

In addition to those who have died of starvation and disease hiding in the forest, the agency found that hundreds of thousands have died because the war has decimated Congo's health care infrastructure. When educated health care workers abandon their clinics, treatable illnesses can turn deadly.

The victims and survivors can only plead for outside help.

"Try to organize yourself and help us, because we are really starving here, and we don't have medicines," the unidentified refugee mother said.

The United Nations estimates that more than 1 million civilians have been displaced and are vulnerable.

Red Cross says more than 400 killed in Congo fighting
June 19, 2000
U.N. Security Council orders other countries' troops out of Congo
June 16, 2000
Rwanda begins withdrawal from Congo city
June 14, 2000
200,000 hungry, frightened citizens of Congo diamond town trapped amid fighting
June 9, 2000
Fighting continues in Congo diamond town past latest cease-fire
June 8, 2000
Rwandan, Ugandan forces defy cease-fire in Congolese city
June 7, 2000

The International Rescue Committee
  •  Mortality Study, Eastern Democratic Republic Of Congo
Democratic Republic of Congo Information
Democratic Republic of Congo Web Links
Uganda online
Rwanda Information Exchange
United Nations

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