Swindon communications expert flies into the jaws of a war zone

Swindon Advertiser: The war-ravaged Congolese city of Goma, which rebel forces invaded two months ago The war-ravaged Congolese city of Goma, which rebel forces invaded two months ago

COMMUNICATIONS expert Brian Barber has flown to a war-ravaged region of Africa to help ease the plight of thousands of children who are subject to rape, abuse and violence.

Mr Barber, 65, set off on Sunday to a city called Goma on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda – two months after being told it was too dangerous to go there.

He was originally due to fly out in December but just two days earlier the Congolese city where around a million people live, was seized by a rebel army which brought further danger and unrest to an already lawless area. He was last week told that the rebel forces – known as M23 – had pulled out and although they are still close by it was felt Goma was now stable enough to visit.

Before leaving on a journey which was due to take two days, Mr Barber, of Peatmoor, West Swindon, said: “This is something I really want to do and has been in the pipeline for some time.

“M23 are still close to Goma but there appears to be little incentive for them to attack the city again. However, I shall be staying 100 metres from the Rwandan border, so if anything happens I should be able to get out of DRC and into Rwanda without much difficulty.”

Mr Barber’s route involved flying to Nairobi in Kenya and then onto Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, before a several hundred mile drive to Goma, just inside the DCR.

As he was making his way towards DCR on Monday the BBC reported clashes involving rival factions of M23, with eight people killed including six civilians some 46 miles north of Goma.

Mr Barber has been hired by an international aid charity to create a mobile phone information system which will enable the rape and abuse of youngsters and adults in rural areas of DCR to be more easily reported.

Sexual violence against civilians, including children as young as eight, goes unchecked in this unsettled swathe of the country where Government troops are involved in an ongoing fight against rebels.

Numerous abuses, including the rape of young girls and the forced recruitment of boy soldiers, are committed at displacement camps which have emerged as a result of towns and villages being evacuated.

Mr Barber, who has been providing vital communications links in war zones and trouble spots for 16 years, described the level of abuses as both sickening and widespread.

He said: “It really is quite staggering. Rape is used as a weapon to spread fear, terror and HIV. It’s very common and is considered the norm. The perpetrators don’t think twice about it. It is a shocking situation.”

Funded by an American charity, the project will see him refine and install a communications system similar to one he designed and built in Afghanistan two years ago.

He said: “I shall be having meetings with the chief of police, prosecutors and the heads of rural police stations.

“The idea is to establish a new and efficient means of filing data relating to gender-based violence to the courts, enabling the authorities to take action and proceed with prosecutions.”

His system will enable the authorities in predominantly rural areas to transfer information from a laptop via a mobile phone as they do not have internet on their phones. He will be able to monitor its progress from his Swindon home.

He added: “Currently it is very difficult getting statements and other data from the rural police stations into the central judiciary.”

Mr Barber first went to the region in 1997 while working for Swindon-based Lucent Technologies to help create radio infrastructure.

While there he became involved in clearing mass graves from the Rwandan genocide when 800,000 were killed.

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