April 21, 2004

Kinshasa/New York, April 21, 2004 - A Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) team has received new reports of horrifying abuse suffered by Congolese diamond miners forcibly driven across the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from their homes in mining areas in Angola. This information confirms earlier accounts pointing to widespread violence perpetrated against mine workers.

According to people receiving treatment from MSF in Kamonia, in southwestern DRC, Angolan forces had encircled a remote mine in Kaninda (Lunda Norte) for four days, leaving those inside with no food or water. Upon entering, the Angolan military broke up families before subjecting individuals to an intrusive strip search for money and diamonds. In addition to being tortured with fire and machetes during the day, men were forced to perform sexual acts on soldiers while women were raped.

"We have information from people from at least five other diamond mining sites confirming that Kaninda is no exception," explains MSF Head of Mission for the DRC, Alain Decoux. "What is being allowed to happen is unacceptable."

Many people have also spoken of the existence of prisons for miners at Kakanda and Lukapa. These establishments, surrounded by anti-personnel mines to prevent escape, contain between 1000 and 2000 people. As is the case elsewhere, women and children are separated from men. It has been confirmed that women are systematically called into small rooms where they are raped, even when pregnant.

According to reports given to the MSF team, Congolese civilians are being used as human shields around several of the mines as the battle for control of the valuable resources rages between the Angolan armed forces and the Tigers (ex-policemen originating from the Katanga region of the DRC, who run sections of the mines).

The MSF emergency team has investigated all five points of entry, and are assisting those driven across the border, providing medical screening as well as food and essential items such as jerry cans and blankets.

Yet there are further difficulties. According to Decoux, "while many of the arrivals are in a poor state there is virtually nothing to welcome them, let alone help them secure passage to their places of origin from this extremely remote area. Many of them were even born in Angola and have no homes to which they can return."

With tens of thousands of civilian miners still to be expelled across the border, the situation is becoming more and more urgent. Once again, MSF demands that both the Angolan and Congolese governments guarantee the protection of these people from violence and attend to their basic human needs. MSF also calls upon other international actors to intervene as quickly as possible to put an end to this situation.