DR Congo

Hundreds of soldiers rampage in west Congo town

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By David Lewis
KINSHASA, July 3 (Reuters) - Several hundred Congolese soldiers went on the rampage in the relatively stable west of the country on Sunday, beating up civilians and looting homes after finding a colleague hacked to death, officials said.

The soldiers were former members of the People's Armed Forces of Congo (FAPC), one of many rebel factions meant to have been integrated into Democratic Republic of Congo's new military after a 5-year civil war officially ended in 2003.

"There are several hundred of these soldiers. When they found their colleague dead, they broke into the armoury, stole the weapons and started pillaging," Albert Donatien Bekalola, mayor of the town of Mbandaka, told Reuters by telephone.

"The regional military commander has deployed soldiers to push them back but the situation is still tense," he said.

Mbandaka lies on the Congo river, around 600 km (370 miles) northeast of Kinshasa, in a region which has largely escaped the fighting that has rumbled on in other areas since the wider war was declared over.

Kemal Saiki, spokesman for the United Nations mission in Congo, said the soldiers had gone out shooting in the streets, beating people up and looting houses after finding one of their colleagues hacked to death. There was no word on casualties.

"The centre of town has calmed down but near the military camp, in the south of the town, there is still the crackle of gunfire," said one resident who did not want to be named.

"We're very worried as the situation is still dangerous. It seems the militia outnumber the military who've been sent in."

TORTURED CIVILIANS

Congo's civil war killed around four million people, mainly from conflict-related hunger and disease, in a nation roughly the size of western Europe.

Despite a 2003 peace deal, the resource-rich country has seen little economic progress and the government has failed to impose its authority over vast areas of the east, where armed gangs still pillage and kill with impunity.

But the U.N. says Equateur province in the west, of which Mbandaka is the capital, has been "relatively stable" over the past two years. It is the only part of the vast country where the world body has started trying to help refugees return home.

Human Rights Watch says FAPC members tortured 24 civilians and killed six of them in the volatile northeastern district of Ituri last October, putting them in a makeshift underground prison at a military base and beating them with sticks.

Some of the most feared Ituri warlords, including the FAPC's Jerome Kakwavu, were made generals in the national army in January, a move meant to help the dismantling of rebel groups.

The capital Kinshasa was also hit by violence last week as frustrations boiled over at a delay to elections originally due by the end of June.

Security forces shot dead at least two demonstrators in the dilapidated city on Thursday as thousands protested to demand the government's resignation over the delay.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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