DR Congo

DRC: 8,000 Mayi-Mayi accused of cannibalism, disarmed in southern Katanga

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KINSHASA, 13 February (IRIN) - An estimated 8,000 Mayi-Mayi militiamen accused of cannibalism were disarmed last weekend in the Haut Lomami District of southern Katanga Province, the provincial governor, Aime Ngoy Mukena Lusa, told IRIN on Wednesday.
The fighters agreed to lay down their arms on 7 February following negotiations between Ngoy and their leaders in the village of Musau, home of one of the most prominent Mayi-Mayi leaders, known as General Lendu, alias Makabe.

"Four factions of the principal Mayi-Mayi groups headed by someone called Makabe agreed to be disarmed," said Ngoy. "Now only a small group of Mayi-Mayi remain in the Malemba-Nkulu territory, and Makabe is trying to persuade them to disarm."

According to Ngoy, each group or faction of Mayi-Mayi comprises about 2,000 men - from which the figure of 8,000 from four factions was derived. The four were operational in an area about 400 km northwest of the provincial capital, Lubumbashi, in the Kabongo and Bunda regions.

The factions were headed by spiritual leaders known as "General Makabe", "Kabale", "Gedeon", and "Mangi", Ngoy said.

Human rights activists have protested that authorities disarmed the fighters, who have been widely accused of cannibalism, without having initiated criminal proceedings against them.

"The governor of Katanga presented the militia leaders and the population of Musau with motorcycles, bicycles, salt and second-hand clothing, but nothing was said about any future judicial investigation into the serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law of which Makabe, Gedeon, Kabale, Mangi and their fanatically devoted henchmen are guilty," said the Centre des droits de l'homme et du droit humanitaire (CDH), a human rights NGO based in Lubumbashi, in a statement issued on Wednesday.

In January, CDH denounced alleged acts of cannibalism committed by armed militias, citing numerous "fighters who paraded through villages, wearing the dried genital organs of their victims".

"They were walking around with human heads at the ends of spears to intimidate villagers suspected of supporting the Forces armees congolaises [FAC, the Kinshasa government army]," said the CDH statement, issued on 8 January. "In the territory of Malemba-Nkulu, Chief Makabe went around with a dried infant around his neck."

CDH argues that the impunity permitted by the provincial authorities will facilitate cannibalism and other human rights violations regularly perpetrated in this region of the DRC. It criticises political, police and military leaders for not having brought to justice those guilty of past acts of killings, abductions, amputations, and trafficking of human organs.

The governor of Katanga, however, countered that his own investigations had failed to prove acts of cannibalism by the Mayi-Mayi. "This is not true," stated Ngoy. "All the Mayi-Mayi leaders admitted that there had been instances of exactions, and sometimes taking body parts, but not cannibalism."

The 8,000 Mayi-Mayi were not the first to be disarmed in this region. In August 2002, seven other Mayi-Mayi factions had handed their weapons over to provincial authorities, said Ngoy.

Although Mayi-Mayi militias are generally seen to be allied with the FAC and opposed to occupation of Congolese territory by neighbouring Rwanda, Mayi-Mayi factions have often clashed with the FAC.

"There are frequently fights between the Mayi-Mayi - popular self-defense forces - and the FAC. The Mayi-Mayi seek vengeance when they believe the FAC have committed atrocities against peaceful Congolese civilians, while the FAC, for their part, often attempt to disarm the Mayi-Mayi militias, considering them to be civilians," said Ngoy.

Acts of cannibalism were recently confirmed and denounced by the UN Mission in the DRC, MONUC, to have taken place in the northeastern region of the country. Members of the Mouvement de liberation du Congo (MLC) and its ally, the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie-National (RCD-N), were accused of being responsible. Following an investigation conducted by the MLC, 27 of its soldiers were arrested and are due to be tried on 18 February.

[ENDS]

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