DRCongo refugees in Angola reveal horrors of conflict
"It was flee or die," said Jean Makemissi, a refugee from the violence raging in Democratic Republic of Congo who has sought sanctuary in neighbouring Angola.
"All of the villages in our region have been occupied by rebels. We left chaotically without taking anything with us. We were truly terrified," he said from the Mussungue camp in the extreme north of Angola, fear visibly etched on his face.
"I'm scared for my children, I don't have any news on them. But by chance I found my wife here."
The Makemissi family home was just a matter of miles from the camp, in the Congolese town of Tshisenge, on the border separating the two countries.
He set off from Tshisenge on March 7 and did not reach Angola until March 14, having hidden from and evaded the rebels during a perilous journey on foot.
The rebels have sworn allegiance to local chief Kamwina Nsapu, who was waging a bloody battle against the government of President Joseph Kabila until he was killed by security forces in August 2016.
Since his death, Nsapu's followers have ramped up attacks on the army and police in four of DRCongo's provinces.
According to the UN, the clashes have claimed the lives of hundreds and triggered an exodus of more than a million civilians, with the UN estimating Monday that an average of 4,600 Congolese flee their homes every day.
- 'Tribal war' -
Like Makemissi, Bavon Kabankaya left Tshisenge as soon as the rebels arrived.
"I witnessed the attack. Everyone fled as soon as they entered the village," Kabankaya said.
"They sought to behead all of the officials. Their goal was to execute anyone who, in their eyes, represented the government."
"They wanted to exterminate the Lulua-Lubas," Kabankaya added, referring to one of the ethnic groups living in the central Kasai Province. "There is a real tribal war in my region."
The UN has condemned the killings of civilians in DRCongo's central provinces for months, saying that so far they have counted 40 mass graves and received reports of entire villages being burned to the ground.
The UN has accused both sides of abuses, accusing the rebels of recruiting child soldiers and the security forces of using excessive force in their fight against the militias.
The rebels are typically equipped with only bludgeons and catapults.
Many of the thousands of Congolese in camps -- as well as the UN and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) -- claim to have witnessed Nsapu's men carry out atrocities.
In mid-April they entered Kamako, a border village, following clashes with the Congolese army nearby, according to Daniel Kabeya, a local resident.
- 'Magic wands' -
"They killed innocent civilians in their homes," Kabeya said. "We heard gunshots and we got out quickly."
Even in the safety of Angolan territory, the refugees do not hide their fear of the militias whom they accuse of using magic to make themselves invincible.
"These guys use magic powers, not weapons," said Alain Kambala. "These are extraterrestrials, the armageddon, they don't die."
Some of those displaced fear that the Congolese army is not powerful enough to take on the threat.
"When the rebels arrived, the soldiers hid and fled," said Anastasie Ubanza, a refugee from another village in Kasai Province.
"If you support the Congolese authorities, then they will slaughter you. As I'm a state employee, I fled quickly. I wasn't able to take my four children."
Sitting under a plastic sheet, which passes for shelter in the Mussungue camp, Anastasie reflected on her plight.
"Today, I have lost them," she said quietly.
Daniel GARELO PENSADOR