Nightline Congo Series, Part 1

ByABC News
September 10, 2001, 1:13 PM

Jan. 21 -- Following is a transcript of the first part of the Nightline series "Heart of Darkness."

TED KOPPEL, ABCNEWS (VO) At the heart of the continent, genocide in a tiny country, a genocide that horrified the world, brought chaos to a country almost 100 times its size, and you probably havent heard a word. Young boys serving time in prisoner of war camps with mass murderers. You think thats bad? Its the best thing thats happened to them in years. What these children have endured is almost unimaginable. She resisted when soldiers were kidnapping children from her village. Animals that have always been protected have been slaughtered by people who simply need the meat. It has claimed more lives than all the other current wars around the world combined. But outside of Africa, no one seems to have noticed. Three years, two and a half million dead. We thought someone should tell you. Tonight, the first in a weeklong series: Still the Heart of Darkness.

ANNOUNCER From ABCNEWS, this is Nightline. Now reporting, Ted Koppel.

TED KOPPEL (VO) Maybe it takes the eruption of a volcano, something enormous and horrifying, but visible. Maybe thats the only way. Perhaps we needed the spectacle this past weekend of 300,000 desperate people fleeing into Rwandainto Rwanda, of all places. Maybe thats what it takes to recapture our attention, to focus our empathy, to reignite the international flow of aid.

(OC) Its been eight years already, but you remember what happened in Rwanda: 800,000 possibly a million people killed. And then, a tidal wave of refugees, another million or so, pouring out of Rwanda and into eastern Congo, smothering the city of Goma in human misery. Goma. Thats where youve heard the name before.

(VO) The same Goma which was covered last Friday in molten lava, was, in 1994, inundated by refugees from Rwanda. Now, as then, health authorities are trying to keep the population from drinking water from the polluted lake. Only now the water purification plants have been destroyed. Then, as my ABC colleague Jim Wooten so eloquently reported, the water plants were simply overwhelmed.

JIM WOOTEN, ABCNEWS (VO) Lake Kivu, cool and inviting, but contaminated now by these multitudes of refugees gathered here like so many vacationers at some island resort. And thousands more trek the road for hours and miles every day to fill their cans and take them back to their families in the camps. They do not know what theyve done to the water. They drink it as though it were pure. It is pure poison. It is all too much. A calamity of such epic proportions, so massive in size and scope, the truth of it is far beyond journalisms reach.

TED KOPPEL Hard to believe, but almost eight years have passed since, for a few intense weeks, we did devote our full attention on the aftermath of the genocide, when another million desperate refugees, mostly Hutu this time, fleeing the reprisal of an army of avenging Rwandan Tutsis, poured into Goma.

(VO) The humanitarian need was so great that we paid little attention to the identity of the refugees. Most of them were Hutu, whod had nothing to do with the genocide. But tens of thousands of the actual killers were hiding among them. And what has happened between then and the eruption of that volcano a few days ago has actually taken a larger human toll than the disasters at either end.

(OC) In this region, its sometimes referred to as the first African World War. We had planned to tell you that story the week of September 11th. Our own tragedy caused us to delay this series. That, after all, was the day when 3,000 people died in the World Trade Center alone. In the Congo, almost that many people have died each and every day for more than three years now. That is the story we will tell you this week.

(VO) This is how were accustomed to seeing are our war dead, laid out in neat cemetery rows. Here in the Congo, though, where this many people die of war-related injury, disease or starvation every day, cemeteries are an exception. Take a look down there. What do you see? We know that hundreds of thousands of Congolese have been driven by war into the jungles, and that they die there of malnutrition and cholera and malaria. Can we see them? Not from up here. But down there, there are no roads to drive. And down there are the armies from a half dozen or more neighboring nations and at least three different rebel groups making the river so dangerous that no one dares to travel by boat. You would think that finding the evidence of two and a half million Congolese who have died over the past four years would be easy. But they are not lying by the side of the road. And life, hard as it is in the Congo, is a distraction. But perhaps if we follow the living, they will help us understand what happened to the dead.