Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Congolese army is responsible for widespread and vicious abuses against its own people that amount to war crimes

TO BE NOTED: From Reuters:

"Rights body accuses DRC troops of war crimes
19 May 2009 16:29:54 GMT
Source: Reuters
* Human rights body accuses DRC troops of rape, other abuses * Urges U.N. to put pressure on Kabila * Congolese government rejects charges (Changes dateline/by-line, adds details and Security Council) By Patrick Worsnip KINSHASA, May 19 (Reuters) - Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Congo's army on Tuesday of war crimes against civilians including rapes and killings, charges the government rejected as "lies". Congolese soldiers and the U.N. peacekeeping force MONUC have been conducting joint operations in eastern Congo targeting Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) Hutu rebels, including leaders of neighbouring Rwanda's 1994 genocide. But New York-based HRW, whose report was published as U.N. Security Council envoys were visiting the region, said local troops were committing atrocities in the area's remote North Kivu province. "The Congolese army is responsible for widespread and vicious abuses against its own people that amount to war crimes," Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher in HRW's Africa Division, said in a statement. HRW accused government soldiers of raping more than 143 women and girls since January -- more than half the total number of rape cases documented by HRW researchers in the country. The army has torched hundreds of houses, schools and health centres and civilians have been killed or arrested, often only being freed when they have paid soldiers, HRW said. "The government should take urgent action to end these abuses. A military operation that targets the very people the government claims to be protecting can only lead to disaster," it said, adding that local civilians had told them they feared government forces as much as the Rwandan militias. Government forces, already a messy collection of factions from Congo's 1998-2003 war that have long been accused of indiscipline, have swelled in the east to about 60,000 with the recent integration of former Tutsi rebels. A government spokesman rejected the charges as lies. "This is nearly word for word the statement of the FDLR. We now have proof that HRW works with the FDLR," said Information Minister Lambert Mende. "I think there will be consequences," he added without elaborating. KNOWN RAPE CASES U.N. Security Council envoys were in Congo's capital, Kinshasa, on Tuesday to bolster a U.N. drive to help resolve years of conflict in the region and ultimately allow the 17,000-strong U.N. force there to leave. "Security Council members should tell President Joseph Kabila that U.N. peacekeepers cannot support military operations in which war crimes are being committed," Woudenberg said. However, French U.N. ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert called a HRW demand to withhold MONUC support for the army contradictory. "We know that there are some cases of known rapists in the ranks of the army. To be very frank with you, we even provided the government with names of people that we wish to see arrested, judged, and imprisoned," he said. "We, at the Security Council, don't think that MONUC support for the government of Congo and its authorities should be made conditional in the current situation where, above all, we must protect the civilian population and put an end to these rebellions." The FDLR largely melted into the bush when the government, backed first by Rwanda's army and then by the United Nations, launched its offensive earlier this year. But around 250,000 civilians have been displaced during the operations, and the FDLR have retaken much of the ground they initially lost. The FDLR have also been accused of atrocities, including a recent wave of massacres of civilians. (Additional reporting by Joe Bavier in Kinshasa, Frank Nyakairu in Nairobi, Editing by Jon Boy"

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