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October 31, 2008
Keep the comments coming…we’re listening

Worldfocus anchor Martin Savidge addresses some of the comments we’ve received about the show. Have a question or comment that he hasn’t addressed? Post it here.

We hear you.

We’ve been on the air now four weeks, so I thought it was time I addressed the comments we’ve received from our viewers.

From the complaint department…

Number one by far was our bump music. That’s the music and graphic that come up between segments. Many of you wrote to say how aggravating and just plain annoying it was. Well, as of last Tuesday, it was replaced. I have to say it made a huge improvement — thanks.

Another major aggravator…our continuous use of the word “partners.” This really does apparently get a lot of people’s goats.

Richard the retiree wrote:

Is it necessary to always refer to the guest reporters as “our partner?” It’s very repetitive. Maybe just say “from.”

BCH put it more poetically:

I know “Our partner Deutsche Welle” better than I do the pledge of allegiance.

BCH and Richard, take heart — as of this week, the word “partner” is gone from our lexicon!

Ginny from Oregon wrote to say:

Thanks for the fine news program – at last. [But] the audio is bad: Words clipped fairly often, maybe every 30 – 60 seconds…

We checked, and as the engineers are fond of saying, “The audio’s fine leaving here.” Maybe we can have a word with your local PBS affiliate in Portland.

Patrick in Georgia noted his own audio issue. He said Worldfocus was growing on him,

“HOWEVER it drives me crazy to watch it. Why? Because Martin Savidge’s lips are not synced up with his voice.”

Patrick, I did my own test of this by talking in front of the mirror. Words and mouth moved in perfect unison. So again, “It’s fine leaving here.” We’ll talk to your affiliate.

Ruth wrote us about our interview over the call for early elections in Israel:

The little time you allowed this guest to ‘discuss’ was an embarrassment, particularly in light of the amount of time spent on Singapore’s traffic control. Really, where are your values/priorities?

Ruth, there will always be disagreement about the length of time given to any one subject. We debate (argue) that amongst ourselves daily.

The Singapore traffic story was part of our Blueprint America coverage, which is a network-wide effort to highlight ideas that could help issues of America’s infrastructure. Truth is, we will be doing many stories and interviews on the Israeli election. That’s probably the first and last time you will see a report on Singapore traffic.

Lastly, a number of emails were from people not too thrilled with me.

Virilene said Worldfocus had the look, feel and urgency of an infomercial:

Mr. Savidge is probably a nice man, but he presents as an android.


BCH referred to “The slow pace and M.S.’s languid delivery” and said our news quiz was apparently aimed at high-schoolers.

I can only say, BCH, you must be one smart person — because most of the Worldfocus staff took that quiz and I have yet to find a person who passed. And just about all of those working here hold master’s degrees.

The put-down with the most panache came from David in Denver:

Martin Savidge, who reminds me a lot of Chris Bury, who reminds me a lot of Arthur Godfrey, is a ‘bon general ordinaire’ but not a ‘grand chef.’ (quoting deGaulle)

I’m afraid you’re stuck with me for a while. I will say I came to Worldfocus not so much for my hosting skills, but because I have been in just about all the places we report on. In fact, there is hardly anyone sitting in any anchor chair who has logged as much continuous time in the field as a reporter as I have.

Like everything else associated with Worldfocus, if it ever comes down to choosing between style or substance…substance will always win.

Maybe I’ll grow on you.

Keep the comments coming…we’re listening.

– Martin Savidge

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October 27, 2008
Protesters pelt UN compound in eastern Congo

Michael J. Kavanagh with displaced Congolese in the Kibumba IDP camp last week. This IDP camp was raided and captured by Congolese rebels yesterday. Photo: Taylor Krauss.

Today, Worldfocus correspondent Michael J. Kavanagh reported from inside a UN compound in eastern Congo, which faced a storm of protesters. Michael is also a journalist for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Watch Michael’s interview with Martin Savidge: UN commander resigns as thousands flee in Congo.

Violence in eastern Congo reached new heights today when the force led by Tutsi rebel General Laurent Nkunda captured the Congolese army’s main base in the east.

The rebels went on to capture three other towns and are now only 20 km (or 12 miles) outside of Goma, where United Nations peacekeepers blocked their advance.

Protesters started taking out their frustrations on the UN because they feel the UN is not doing enough to protect them against the small (but powerful) rebel group of 5,000 to 7,000. Protesters have been stoning vehicles, pelting the compound with rocks and burning tires in the street.

There are probably about 100 people total inside the compound. At least one Congolese civilian was killed when U.N. peacekeepers were forced to open fire on a crowd storming their base.

There are more than 1 million internally displaced people (IDPs) here in the east right now. Today, another 20,000 were displaced and on their way to Goma — a camp up the road had been emptied out.

Over 250,000 people have been displaced by fighting in the last six weeks.

A peace process that began in January 2008 was supposed to force the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) to put down their weapons and go back to Rwanda, but that process has fallen apart.

This is kind of an endgame to the Congolese war that started in 1996, when Rwanda tried to track down genocidaires — or Rwandan Hutus who committed genocide — in eastern Congo. There are still remnants of that genocidal force here in Congo.

Congo is now accusing Rwanda of fighting a proxy war by supporting Nkunda’s rebels. In response, Rwanda says both Congo AND the UN peacekeeping force are protecting the FDLR.

Nkunda’s spokesperson said their forces are fighting primarily against the FDLR – a group of Rwandan Hutu rebels who have terrorized eastern Congo ever since they first came here in 1994. The leaders of the FDLR are accused of participating in the Rwandan genocide.

– Michael J. Kavanagh

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October 27, 2008
A nation of internationalists


Martin Savidge in the Worldfocus studio.

Anchor Martin Savidge writes about global challenges that the next U.S. president will face. This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

According to the conventional wisdom, this election is all about domestic issues. Jobs, finances, mortgages and falling commodity prices are the topics to which the campaigns are scrambling to respond, but to buy into the idea that these issues are purely domestic in scope is to be living in the past. More now than at any time in our history, our domestic problems are immediately linked to world events. Our nation can no longer look primarily inward to find the answers. We must live in the wider world.

We may not yet know if he is a Republican or Democrat, but it’s clear the next president will have to be an internationalist. Coming into office in the midst of a world financial crisis, two foreign wars, and a rapidly evolving diplomatic portfolio, the new president will be forced to focus on global events, and the United States’ position in every major international development, beginning day one.

Certain foreign affairs policies of the last eight years, such as the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) and the Administration’s initiatives in Africa, have been successful because they were based on a solid understanding of international events. These programs demonstrate the positive effect of well-informed action. But, one can just as easily find examples foreign affairs initiatives which have faltered or flatly failed, primarily because our efforts may not have been as well informed, or may not have taken full advantage of the expertise of the world community.

The days are gone when a small American company can count on the local community for its customer base. Everyone from the CEO of a Fortune 500 company to the owner of an Erie, Pennsylvania-based manufacturing concern with 20 employees, to a Vermont-based antique shop owner, now works internationally. Clients are no longer across town; they are working across borders and oceans, taking the best products for the money from the suppliers that meet their needs. Every American, not just venture capitalists and politicians, but workers and owners, are part of a global network.

This isn’t speculative; this is the current state of American business and life. We are part of the world, and yet, we seem to want to avoid acknowledging that fact. And, as a result, we too often go into that global arena half prepared.

According to a National Geographic survey, after several years of war more than two-thirds of American students still fail to find Iraq on a world map. Nearly 45% failed to find Iran and Israel. Less than half of students 18-24 could find Ohio on a map of the U.S. These are the kind of figures that scare us, and rightly so. If we are going to do business, we need to produce a next generation that has a basic understanding of the global economy and political situation.

The same interconnectivity that has caused economies to shift toward a global orientation provides that tools our businessmen, students and workers need to compete. Information is the most powerful and important of these tools, and it is incumbent upon everyone from educators, to consumers of news, to business owners, and even the President, to instill a sense of global citizenship and sense of our place in the world. We have to see that our neighbors, our customers, and our friends may not live close by. We can no longer treat the rest of the world as foreigners. We must become a nation of internationalists.

– Martin Savidge

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October 23, 2008
Egyptian bloggers cite censorship, arrest and torture

Producer Sally Garner reported with Megan Thompson and Hoda Osman from Egypt. Sally produced a Worldfocus signature story, Egypt’s journalists fight for free speech, in which journalists discuss freedom, the press and taking blogging to the streets — or behind bars.

The video below is an exclusive Web interview with blogger and activist Hossam el-Hamalawy.

For bloggers and mainstream journalists, Egypt is far from free. Both Hossam el-Hamalawy and Nora Younis blog using their real names. Both write about protest rallies, politics and the growing — but still small — labor movement in Egypt.

Watch the video interview of el-Hamalawy, who says he’s been arrested, questioned and tortured several times during his career. He describes the blogging community in Cairo as having one foot in cyberspace and the other in the street.


It’s that activism that makes them targets for state security police.

Blogger Nora Younis told us about knowing she was being watched but choosing to continue to live and work without trying to hide.

“I never lock my door; I just leave my apartment and pull the door shut,” she said. “I never lock my door. I don’t care if they’re tapping the phone; I have to continue living as if this is safe. I have the right to do it. I should continue to do it.”

Reporters without Borders ranked Egypt 148th out of 169 countries in its annual press freedom survey.

The organization specifically cited the jailing of two bloggers last year as evidence of Egypt’s continuing crackdown on journalists. The report also pointed to the use of the Internet as a powerful tool that resulted in the “unprecedented arrest and imprisonment” of two government officials when a blogger posted video of them torturing prisoners at a local police station.

– Sally Garner

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October 23, 2008
A route to peace in Kashmir

Martin Savidge and his producer, Sanjay Sethi, in Kashmir. Photo courtesy of Martin Savidge.

Anchor Martin Savidge remembers reporting in Kashmir in 2002 and examines the news of a new trade route through the region.

If I had my way, our lead story on Tuesday night would have been the opening of a new trade route between India and Pakistan through the bitterly contested region of Kashmir.

Trucks with grain and honey rolled amid a fanfare of celebration. I read about one 72-year-old man who said that the last time he saw this trade route used, he was 12.

We didn’t lead with the story, but we did have it in the program. As chief writer Ed Deitch put it so well: “Pakistan and India did something today they hadn’t done in six decades.”

In a world where we seem to stumble from one crisis to the next, this was welcomed news. I watched all of the big domestic newscasts that night…none mentioned it.

I was in Kashmir when tanks — not trucks of grain — rolled, when artillery thundered across the so-called “Line of Control.” I was there in the summer of 2002 when both countries threatened to go to war over Kashmir as they have done several times in the past.

Only this time, both nations prepared their nuclear arsenals.

I remember being in India-controlled Kashmir and expressing my concerns to a government official about being a little nervous covering a story that might end in a nuclear flash. He assured me New Delhi and Islamabad might die in an atomic fire, but neither country would harm the land they love and have fought over so frequently. I was in the safest possible place, he said.

Actually, I understand why both nations lay claim to Kashmir. It is simply the most beautiful place I have ever been. When people ask me to describe it, I say it’s like the Alps (only greener) and like a dream (only real). Kashmir has mystical and exotic qualities along with a natural beauty that makes the land seem enchanted.

One day in your life, you must glide in a shikara [wooden boat] across the mirror-like waters of Lake Dal in Srinagar.

These gondola-like vessels gracefully balance between floating and sinking. Pushed by an oarsman, you glide in the shadow of mountaintop palaces, past Victorian-era carved wooden houseboats that look as though they are still home to the British administrators from the time of the Raj.

The rise of militancy in the political struggle over Kashmir has driven away the tourists that in the 70s and 80s would jet set here. It’s still a dangerous land…but perhaps both Pakistan and India have opened a new route to peace.

— Martin Savidge

Find one of Martin’s 2002 CNN reports from Kashmir here.

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October 22, 2008
Remembering Somalia before the pirate attacks

Producer Bryan Myers shares a story from his coverage of the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Somalia in the early 1990s. Bryan traveled to a water well in the walled city of Wajhid near the Ethiopian border.

The recent pirate attacks in Somalia have brought international attention to the war-torn and drought-stricken country, but the fighting is a result of a decades-long conflict between warlords and insurgents.

In the early 1990s, Somalia underwent a power shift. In 1991, dictator Mohammed Siad Barre was ousted by opposition forces and replaced by an interim leader who was not accepted by all Somalis.

Clan fighting ensued, displacing over a million Somalis, and United Nations observers were sent to monitor the situation. The U.S. sent troops to Somalia as part of “Operation Restore Hope,” but continued clan warfare led up to the Battle of Mogadishu in October 1993.

The fight killed over 1,000 Somali militiamen and civilians and more than a dozen U.S. soldiers, and soon after, President Clinton called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The U.N. withdrew in 1995 and Somalia faces inter-clan fighting and political upheaval to this day.


Somalis at a water well in Wajhid. Photo: Bryan Myers

Bryan Myers:

Famine was everywhere, and the country was lawless. There was no government; most of the country was ruled by clans who enforced their authority at gunpoint. You may recall seeing television images of so-called “technicals,” young men in pick-up trucks with machine guns mounted in the back.

Somalia had no running water or electricity—thieves had stolen all the parts from the factories to sell on the black market. There was no phone service either. The bandits had also stolen all the wire from the phone lines (this was before cell phones).

The situation was so bad, the first President Bush had ordered several divisions of U.S. troops to Somalia to distribute food and restore order. Their base of operations was the capital of Mogadishu.

At first, things went well. The famine was brought under control pretty quickly. However, when the U.S. military tried to disarm the clans, things turned sour. The clans resisted, and many shootouts followed.

After spending several weeks covering the violence, we were eager to find out if there was any part of the country that still functioned normally. Someone mentioned the remote town of Wajhid, near the border with Ethiopia. Close to Wajhid was a garrison of French Foreign Legionnaires which was working with elders in Wajhid to create a local police force.

After two days of hard driving up dusty ravines that barely qualified as roads, we finally came upon Wajhid. It was one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen.

It was nothing less than Biblical. Set on a pale dust plain, Wajhid was a walled town, with a huge wooden entrance gate that was closed in the evenings. Outside the main gate was a large well.

Because of the well, Wajhid served as a crossroads for every nomad in the region. Local men brought up water in leather sacks, no doubt the same as had been done for centuries. Hundreds of camels and scores of goats crowded in, eager for a taste as the water poured down wooden sluices. Among the animals, children splashed themselves, trying to beat the heat.

Amid the horror, we had somehow managed to find beauty.

Read the latest news on Somalis fleeing to Yemen: Somalia struggles with famine, fear and flight.

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October 21, 2008
Sailing along the Nile in Egypt

Producer Sally Garner reported with Megan Thompson and Hoda Osman from Egypt. Sally describes how Egyptians view Americans and American politics.

View the story here: Egyptians express views on America


Nile River boatman Hussein Ahmed. Photo: Sally Garner

When I first saw Cairo from an airplane window it seemed to be a vast sea of brown, with three tiny triangles poking up from the monochromatic landscape. Tiny from the air — but you know you’re looking at the Giza pyramids.

Once you’re on the ground and actually at the pyramids, you realize that Cairo is pressing its irrigated edges right up to the those amazing monuments. The brown desert landscape gives way to green only because of the Nile. Egypt gets only two or three days of rain a year, so the river is what provides 95 percent of the water for the whole country.

We got a close-up view of the world’s longest river on a quick trip on a felucca [a traditional wooden sailing boat]. The striking thing about sailing along the Nile in the heart of Cairo is how suddenly quiet it seems. The river is at one of its narrowest points here, but it’s so wide and gentle that you never hear the roar of traffic from the main roads just alongside.

One of our assignments was to try to get a glimpse of what Egyptians think about America, so we took the opportunity to interview our boatman, Hussein Ahmed. While the current and the breeze were calm, he had plenty to tell us, volunteering his affection for “Ameryka” but his disdain for President Bush and the policies of the current administration in the Middle East.

As we sailed along past the former home of late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, we heard about the “good” Presidents Carter and Clinton and how the “Bush family should go.” As we got off the boat, he said sadly that American tourists don’t come to Egypt as often anymore. He hoped we would come back because even though he was angry about U.S. political policy, he truly liked Americans.

It was a refrain we’d hear over and over and over during our trip…at the fancy indoor shopping malls…and in the street markets.

It’s clear that while Egypt might be mysterious to Americans, America is a daily presence in the lives of Egyptians.

– Sally Garner

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October 20, 2008
As migrant money drops, Mexican villages worry

Producer Rebecca Haggerty reports from two Mexican hillside villages with Ara Ayer and Martin Savidge about the local effects of the U.S. economy’s downturn. The story grew out of a small news item about remittances — or money sent back home by Mexicans living in the U.S. — which fell by about two percent in July.

View the story here: U.S. money to Mexico slows.

A road climbing through the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico, where villagers are feeling the effects of fewer remittances. Photo: Martin Savidge

Outside of Ixmiquilpan, the road climbs up the Sierra Madre mountains and into several small villages populated mostly by indigenous Mexicans from the Hnahnu tribe.

For centuries, the Hnahnu scraped a living growing corn from the rocky, semi-arid land. But in the last few decades, they started traveling to the U.S. to work in construction, agriculture and restaurants. Those journeys changed the landscape of the countryside – literally.

Migrant money builds new roads and public buildings in the villages, and countryside is dotted with two-story concrete houses embellished with flourishes worthy of suburban McMansions.

In Puerto Dexthi, a town of about 800, the town hall/health center was built with money sent from abroad. That’s where we met Hillario Cerroblanco, who worked in the U.S. for 15 years. Before he went North, Hillario made baskets from the tough fiber of native plants. He showed us the traditional house that he and his extended family still use.

It was one room, made from wood and thatch. But after years working construction in Florida, Hillario designed his own dream house. His hand-drawn plans show two stories and four bedrooms.

When we met him, he was building his own house full-time, along with help from his neighbors. Hillario had returned from the U.S. because he missed his family, and he also couldn’t find full-time work. He wasn’t sure how long his money would last, but he was determined to keep building.

Down the road, in the village of San Nicolas, Maria Felix Garcia still lives in the traditional style, with an open air courtyard where chiles and corn husks dry under the fierce mountain sun. The 45-year-old mother of five paid her doctor’s bills for eye surgery using the money her oldest daughter earned working in a restaurant in Georgia. Maria and her youngest daughter spend the afternoons embroidering the elaborate blouses traditionally worn in the village.

They hope to sell them in the craft market, but it takes a month to complete the elaborate designs. Her husband makes $8 dollars a day working in the fields. In contrast, the money that her oldest daughter was able to make working in a restaurant seemed like a fortune, and it helps send the younger children to school. Still, that cash comes at a high price. Maria doesn’t have a phone, and her contact with her daughter is infrequent. “I miss her,” she confessed, breaking down in tears.

Across the valley, Maria’s worries echoed. Forty percent of Mexicans live in poverty, and the InterAmerican development bank study estimates that another two million families – most in Mexico – will be pushed below the poverty line if remittances continue to fall. We left the valley as the sun set, tired and sobered by the trip. Just days after we returned, the Mexican Central Bank published the newest monthly figures — remittances dropped even further.

— Rebecca Haggerty

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October 17, 2008
Covering more than just the big stories

Anchor Martin Savidge reports from Worldfocus’s newsroom in New York.

What you see and what you get.

From the outset, when Worldfocus was just an idea, we talked about wanting to bring viewers more than just the big stories of the day.

We wanted to deliver a view of the world Americans hadn’t seen before. Not just places but perspectives and different points of view.

Sometimes, even the most frequently reported story can benefit from a new pair of reporter’s eyes.

I think our signature series this week on 21st century Africa really nailed that concept. There are so many old stereotypes about Africa.

Ask most Americans about their idea of Africa and the answers range from the constant chaos of famine and war to a nonstop backdrop for “Animal Planet.”

Thanks to the insightful reporting of Martin Seemungal and the producing of Yuval Lion, we saw different images of Africa — life in a growing middle class neighborhood, how cell phones are transforming everyday businesses, as well as China’s rising influence across Africa.

Another story we ran this week, which you may not have seen before — at least, we hadn’t — included the cholera outbreak in Iraq, as reported by Syrian Satellite TV.

This was a two-fer in my book — it was a story unknown here in the U.S., and then there was the perspective of Syria itself, which refers to the American presence in Iraq as an “occupation.”

Seeing what is happening in Iraq beyond just bullets and bombs is important.

Even more so, hearing how America’s efforts are portrayed to millions in the Middle East brings new insight.

When we wonder why people in the Arab world despise the American presence, we need only understand the message they are hearing.

A new view brings new understanding. It’s what we’ll always strive to bring.

— Martin Savidge

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October 15, 2008
Reporting from the battlegrounds of eastern Congo

Two siblings in an IDP camp in CNDP territory, eastern Congo. They were displaced by the recent fighting between General Laurent Nkunda’s CNDP rebel group and the Congolese army. Photo: Michael J. Kavanagh

Over the last six weeks, more than 150,000 people have fled their homes as fighting reignited in Congo. This week, Congolese army tanks pounded rebels in North Kivu in a two-day battle against Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda‘s militia.

The conflict began almost 15 years ago when Rwandan Hutu rebels spilled into Congo from the neighboring genocide in Rwanda. In the last year, hundreds have been killed, thousands of women have been raped and over 800,000 Congolese have fled their homes.

Tutsi General Nkunda recently expanded his crusade to liberate all Congolese people. Last week, the Congolese government gave the U.N. Security Council photographs as proof of Rwandan soldiers‘ involvement in Nkunda’s attack. Rwanda has denied any involvement.

Since 1998, an estimated 5.4 million people have died in the conflict, and about 45,000 die every month, according to an International Rescue Committee survey.

Worldfocus correspondent Michael J. Kavanagh is currently reporting from the North Kivu region of eastern Congo. He is a also a journalist for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Below is a collection of journal entries from Michael’s reporting in Goma. His entries lead up to the intense fighting over the last couple days.

October 11, 2008: Curfew in Goma — NGOs grow anxious

I just came home from several days in the field. When I turned on my phone again, I got a text saying there was a 6 p.m. curfew for fear that UN vehicles would be attacked – at this point, it seems anyone who’s not Congolese or driving in a white 4×4 is considered U.N.

It’s becoming incredibly difficult to operate in North Kivu. It’s not just the insecurity – tensions are so high between the government and the CNDP that aid groups are having a terrible time moving across front lines. This means it’s even worse for journalists – more than ever I need the aid groups to get around but they’ve become paranoid about transporting journalists for fear of jeopardizing their access and – more importantly – the safety of their staff.

Before I move with aid workers I need to agree to a series of rules about what I can and cannot report on. This means that most of what I’m doing I can’t write about here.

October 9, 2008: Waiting for the Rwanda invasion

The Congolese Ambassador to the U.N. just told the Security Council that Rwanda invaded eastern Congo last night, and the Rwandan army is waiting along the border outside Goma, ready to take the town over. Here in Goma — where we can see Rwanda across Lake Kivu — I live about a five-minute walk from the border, and we’re drinking tea.

Blaming Rwanda is a fallback tactic for the Congolese government and army when things go wrong. It inflames nationalist sentiment and brings up memories of past Rwandan invasions — this has the added effect of turning the population against Kinyarwanda speakers in the east, particularly against Tutsis. There may be some truth to it this time – the RDF is not at the border waiting to get in (I was back and forth over the border a few times this weekend).

But it wouldn’t be out of the question for small groups of Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF) soldiers to cross the border to help the CNDP [Nkunda’s National Congress for People’s Defense].  Of course, as one prominent former government minister told me yesterday, “So what, Rwanda sends a battalion. DRC has eight brigades here. It shouldn’t be a fight.”

October 9, 2008: Nkunda’s forces overtake Congolese army base

This morning Laurent Nkunda’s forces took over the Congolese army’s biggest base in the east, about 45 minutes from Goma. I was there only two days ago, and was planning on going back this weekend to film the displaced communities. Now it looks like those displaced people will be moving elsewhere, and we’ll need to find another place to film because the Congolese authorities will never let us cross that front line.

When the news was passed around this morning – by phone calls or in meetings or by sms — you could see the frisson move through people’s bodies. Rumangabo is close – we’ve all been plenty of times. It’s been FARDC [Congolese army] land as long as I’ve been reporting here and I never would have thought that it was under threat. Yesterday the CNDP looked weak. Now they’re just 45 minutes down the road with an enormous cache of weapons.

Congolese are rioting against MONUC [UN’s mission in Congo] in protest. The aid groups aren’t sure how they’ll be able to move in the coming days – it’s completely unpredictable where the next fighting will be.

It’s always strange to be in Goma during times like this. The U.N. will never let significant violence move into the city, so we blithely sit in bars by the lake and drink beers while trying to make plans with fixers and aid workers by text message. Every hour or so, someone at the bar will receive an sms from an army commander or rebel spokesman or fixer or U.N. insider about which town just fell or which village people are fleeing from. Each town that falls means horrible things for the people there.  At the bar in Goma we keep score: three towns to one, fifty casualties to twenty one, ten thousand displaced – half of them for the second time in a month. From Goma, we treat the fighting uncomfortably like sport.

October 8, 2008: Day of Prayer for Peace

Today the government declared a national day of prayer for peace and gave everyone a holiday. The army commemorated the day by attacking Nkunda positions in at least two places by 6 a.m.  As one national aid worker told me, “We’ve been at war for 15 [sic] years and now they choose to tell us to pray for peace.”

In the city, the roads were quiet, and in the morning people went to the cathedral or the local churches to pray. By afternoon, dozens of men were drunk in the streets.

I met a taxi man named James who wouldn’t work past dark because it would be too dangerous to get home to his neighborhood – he’s a Tutsi – and so he gave my friend his taxi to keep for the night and took a moto home.

October 6, 2008: War returns

I just came back from the Médecins Sans Frontières office. As I arrived, they were finishing a press release saying that “violence has reached its highest level in years.” Yesterday on my way back to Goma from Rutshuru, where the Congolese authorities were more paranoid than I’ve ever seen them, I saw dozens of jeeps full of soldiers speeding faster than anyone ever should up these dirt roads. About 10 miles outside Goma there were tanks mobilizing to follow.

This morning we began getting text messages from aid workers and rebel groups about fighting all across North Kivu. There are already a 100,000 newly displaced people.  This weekend I visited a church and school where several hundred people were sleeping on the floors — they get kicked out once classes start or services begin. If it rains during school hours or church services, the people stand outside and just get wet.

The rebel leader, Laurent Nkunda, declared a “total war of liberation” in a BBC interview two days ago. He’s actually said even worse, but the main national radio station supported by U.N. money decided not to broadcast his interview for fear of inciting riots against Nkunda supporters. Large crowds of Congolese are still throwing stones at UN convoys as they patrol the roads.

– Michael J. Kavanagh

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