on a wing and a prayer in the drc

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    On a wing and a prayer

    By Caroline Pare
    BBC, Bunia

    Dave Jacobsson is a missionary pilot with Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) working in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    The Jacobson family. Picture: Human Rights Watch
    With limited infrastructure and a deteriorating security situation, Dave's plane was a God-send to people in the area.

    "Everything has to happen by the plane," Dave says.

    "We carry everything from mail to livestock. Literally. MAF is a very vital part in keeping east DRC going at this time."

    On 5 September last year, Dave started work as usual, flying off at 0803 in the morning.

    Madam you've got to go, you've got to go or they'll kill us all

    Donna's baby sitter

    DR Congo's mission of mercy
    All seemed normal, but had he looked to the south he would have seen thousands of rebel soldiers coming over the hills.

    His wife, Donna, and their two children - Matthew, nine, and a two-year-old Andrew - were doing the normal morning routine.

    Nightmare in Naykunde

    Donna says she was doing some Bible reading with Matthew when everything changed.

    Nyakunde was devastated in last year's massacre. Picture: Human Rights Watch

    "There was shooting everywhere and all at once. A large number of militia had converged on the village and it became very intense very quickly," Donna says.

    Donna and the children along with some Congolese friends who were of the opposite tribe hid in the bedroom.

    At 1115 Dave's colleagues heard Donna on the radio saying: "They're at the door."

    "They started kicking in the door to the kitchen and our baby sitter who understood their language started shouting at me 'Madam you've got to go, you've got to go or they'll kill us all,'" Donna says.

    "She started screaming at me. So I went to the kitchen as they were coming in the door."

    The militiamen demanded all the communications equipment and money and forced Donna through the house making her unplug and hand over all she had.

    The worst moment came when they entered the bedroom where her children and friends were hiding. But they were left untouched.

    Hacked to death

    In all, five groups went through the house as the shooting and explosions carried on through the day, into the night and beyond.

    The pilots offer a lifeline to isolated communities

    "Some groups who'd come through were young soldiers, children, really, 13-, 14-year-olds who were really only demanding food with a gun," Donna says.

    In the evening one of Donna's friends had to go home to get her baby.

    She found her alive, but she was lying beside the body of the babysitter who had been hacked to death.

    The last soldiers to enter the Jacobssons' house were the meanest and most frightening.

    They wouldn't accept that there was no money left and kept saying they would shoot them all, being especially threatening to Donna's Congolese friends.

    Eventually, she miraculously found $60. Matthew had raised the money for Nyakunde school when he was on home leave in the USA and she had put it away.

    Thankfully the soldiers left with that and no-one was hurt.


    All this time Dave had been sitting in Bunia using his radio to try to get permission from the militia commanders to fly in and rescue his family.

    Terrified villagers fled their homes. Picture: Marcus Perkins/Tearfund

    Thirty hours into the nightmare, word came. Within minutes he was in his plane and was taxiing for take off.

    Having said that this was the worst day of his life Dave, said that when he saw his family alive at the airstrip it was the best moment of his life.

    Dave managed to negotiate for three planeloads of people to leave.

    Donna found that one of the worst moments.

    "It was horribly anguishing, we could only take three planeloads out and so of course many, many people were left behind and it got worse and worse and worse for them. They had the real nightmare," she said.

    "We've heard horrible stories of torture, taking prisoners and starving people. It's beyond our comprehension the evil that went on.

    "We have heard reports of 1,200 all the way up to 2,000 people who were killed."

    'Killing goes on'

    Dave explains that the Hema and Lendu tribes who are enemies in this ongoing tribal war have for years played, worked and laughed together.

    "Through the manipulation of a few, this has been turned into a full scale conflict between these two tribes with killing on a scale that's just unbelievable," he says.

    And the killing goes on.

    Since Nyakunde, the attacks in the provincial capital of Bunia have drawn the world's attention to this horrific conflict.

    The UN Security Council has sent a larger UN force to the area with a beefed up mandate so there is at last hope that the fighting can be halted.

    The five part series, On A Wing And A Prayer, is being broadcast on Radio 4 on Thursdays at 0845 GMT (0945 BST).

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