DR Congo

Congo rebels guilty of cannibalism, mass rape - UN

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By Mark Dummett
KINSHASA, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Cannibalism, systematic rape, torture and kidnapping were used as weapons by rebels during recent fighting in remote areas of Congo inhabited by Pygmies, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

"They cut out the hearts and other organs of their victims and forced families to eat them... One little girl was executed, cut into little pieces and then eaten," a U.N. spokeswoman said of the findings of an investigation into atrocities in northeastern Congo's jungles.

"These armed groups are composed of freaks, and these freaks are out of control," Patricia Tome told Reuters in Kinshasa.

She said fighters of the Ugandan-backed Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) and two smaller factions were to blame for the atrocities in a war that has left an estimated two million dead since 1998 in Africa's third biggest country.

Investigators from the U.N. Mission in Congo (MONUC) were sent to the area around Beni near the Ugandan border after fighting which aid agencies say has uprooted about 155,000 people since mid-October.

Fighting continued despite a December peace deal to end the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but has now been ended by a local accord.

"The mission of inquiry received witness testimonies which corroborated reports of looting and systematic rape as well as summary executions and kidnappings, used as weapons of war,"Tome said.

PYGMIES AMONG VICTIMS

Among the victims were Pygmies, believed to be the original inhabitants of the rain forests at the heart of Africa before being displaced by other ethnic groups. Tome said some had been forced to flee the forest for the first time ever.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council issued a statement on Wednesday condemning "in the strongest terms" the massacres and human rights violations in the region and holding MLC leader Jean Pierre Bemba personally responsible for the security of civilians in the territory under his control.

"The members of the council demanded that Jean-Pierre Bemba ensure that these massacres and violations of human rights cease immediately and hold the perpetrators accountable," said the statement, read to reporters by Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere of France, the council president for January.

Bemba, who hopes to become one of Congo's vice-presidents when the December peace deal is implemented, said on Tuesday that he had placed under house arrest the officers responsible for the atrocities.

During a closed-door briefing on the situation in Congo, Security Council members also asked the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations to study the possibility of sending peacekeepers to the area, de la Sabliere told reporters.

U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello said during a visit to Kinshasa that it was important for the December peace accord that perpetrators of the atrocities in eastern Congo be brought to justice.

"It may take some time, it may be before an international or national criminal jurisdiction, but justice is one of the pillars of durable peace," he told Reuters.

"There is a culture of violence that exists because of the anarchy in this country," he said.

The U.N. investigators interviewed 368 people, including witnesses and victims, who said the fighters described their campaign as "wiping the slate clean."

"It was presented to the population as a vaccination operation, aiming to loot every house and rape every woman," Tome said.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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