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Suffering Hopes in Congo

Author: Michael J. Gerson, Roger Hertog Senior Fellow
December 10, 2008
Washington Post

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The setting of this city is all contrast and drama - nestled along a vast, placid lake but dominated by a volcano that steams by day and glows faint and red on a clear evening. A city living in the shadow of sudden violence.

Driving north from Goma, one passes through wide lava fields - black, broken and sharp to the feet. About seven miles along the rutted road, the uniforms of the soldiers change, from the solid green of the FARDC (the Congolese military) to the camouflage of the CNDP (the rebel forces led by Laurent Nkunda). For civilians, the colors of the uniforms often matter little - all the groups are capable of pillage and rape.

Less than a mile from the front, a left turn brings you into the Kibati I camp - more than 6,000 men, women and children displaced by nearby fighting. The camps channel the problems of Congo like a storm drain after a flash food - skin diseases, worms, diarrhea and respiratory ailments. A teenage girl wears a heavy coat against her malarial chills. An 8-year-old boy named Glory smiles for the camera, even though his  body is hot with fever.

When the various armies move, whole towns flee, causing spikes in sexual violence and acute malnutrition. And this individual suffering gathers into shocking statistics. Perhaps 4 million deaths related to war over the past decade. Or maybe it is 5 million. We know that the events are approaching a holocaust scale when the margin of error is measured in millions.

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