Tuesday, May 19, 2009

DRC-UN commanders: Ex-rebels integrated into Congo army responsible for rapes, killings

By ANITA POWELL
Associated Press
May 18, 2009

GOMA, Congo - Congolese rebels who became part of the country's army under a peace deal are looting, raping and killing the civilians they are meant to protect, U.N. military commanders told top U.N. officials on Monday.

The failure of integration efforts threatens attempts to bring peace to eastern Congo. The mineral-rich region has been torn apart by violence since Hutu militias who carried out Rwanda's genocide fled there almost 15 years ago.

Congo's violence has previously sucked in half a dozen of its neighbors, destabilizing central Africa.

Since a peace agreement was signed in 2003, about 16,600 rebel fighters have been integrated into the regular Congolese army — itself a notoriously ill-disciplined force of roughly 125,000.

Brig. Gen. Bipin Rawat, the commander of the U.N.'s forces in the north Kivu region, said that had not stopped the former rebels from murdering, torturing and raping civilians.

"We have been insisting to them that they refrain from carrying out human rights violations," he told visiting members of the U.N. Security Council who are touring the region.

A U.N. human rights official, Marie Plamadiala, warned the Security Council that the U.N. could be held responsible for human rights violations committed by the Congolese army.

The Congolese army, "is indeed supported by MONUC. And they are indeed committing these human rights violations. We should address these violations otherwise we could be considered complicit," she said in Kiwanja, where more than 100 people were killed last year.

Lyn Lusi, the director of HEAL Africa hospital, said she had seen an increase in the number of rapes since the rebels were integrated.

"We have to put much more emphasis on the protection of civilians," she said. Her hospital in the eastern town of Goma sometimes treats over 400 rape victims a month. Sex attacks in Congo are infamous for their brutality and frequency.

"The civilian population is under general suspicion from both sides as collaborators," said Marcel Stoessel, a Congo-based director for Oxfam.

The 16,475-strong U.N. mission, known by its French acronym MONUC, says it does not have enough soldiers to protect all civilians in Congo, a country larger than Western Europe but with only 300 miles (480 kilometers) of paved roads.

That forces them to depend on the Congolese soldiers to help defend the population. But Lt. Gen. Babacar Gaye, military commander of the U.N. mission, said the Congolese soldiers had not been paid for five months. He said the U.N. was feeding 20,000 Congolese soldiers every day because they had no food for themselves.

Congo is notoriously corrupt and army officers frequently steal the paychecks they are supposed to disburse, sending their men to prey on the population instead.

Gaye said the violence against civilians was unlikely to stop soon.

"We are on the way of progress," he said. "Unfortunately this way is paved with atrocities."

Earlier this year there was major fighting in eastern Congo, continuing a cycle of conflict that has engulfed Africa's Great Lakes region for years. There has been a lull in the violence since relations with neighboring Rwanda improved, following Rwanda's arrest of a Congolese rebel.

The Congolese government has frequently accused Rwanda of supporting some of the fighters in an effort to flush out the remains of the genocidal forces hiding in the forests.

Congo is the U.N. envoys' third stop on a four-nation tour focusing on some of Africa's hotspots.

Related Materials:
Congo ex-rebels accused of rape and killings - San Francisco Gate

DR Congo: Security Council team visits camp for internally displaced - Reliefweb.int

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