Africa

Rights groups slam 'disastrous' Congo army campaign

Staff Reporter

Rights groups on Tuesday blasted Kinshasa's "disastrous" military operation to neutralise Rwandan Hutu rebels in eastern Congo.

Rights groups on Tuesday blasted Kinshasa’s “disastrous” military operation to neutralise Rwandan Hutu rebels in eastern Congo, and urged the international community to do more to protect civilians.

More than 1 000 civilians have been killed and more than 7 000 women and girls raped since the Congolese army began the operation to clear FDLR rebels out of eastern Congo in January, the Congo Advocacy Coalition said.

“The human rights and humanitarian consequences of the current military operation are simply disastrous,” said Marcel Stoessel of Oxfam, one of the groups in the 84-member coalition.

Nearly 900 000 people have been forced to flee their homes, mainly as a result of reprisal attacks by the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, which took refuge in eastern Congo 15 years ago.

The UN peacekeeping mission in Congo is providing logistical support for the operation, codenamed Kimia II, and the rights groups want it to use its influence to ensure civilians are protected.

“UN peacekeepers, who have a mandate to protect civilians, urgently need to work with government forces to make sure civilians get the protection they need, or discontinue their support,” said Stoessel.

The call comes as diplomats and UN officials are due to meet in Washington this week to discuss the situation in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The coalition said the FDLR was deliberately targeting civilians in reprisal for the military operation.

But it added that Congolese government soldiers were also responsible for killing civilians as well as widespread rape, looting, forced labour and arbitrary arrests.

But despite working in close cooperation with the government troops, the UN had not used its leverage to instil greater discipline, including getting the government to remove commanders with track records of human rights abuses, the coalition said.

The UN mission is providing tactical expertise, transport and aviation support, fuel and food to Congo’s under-equipped forces at an estimated cost of six million dollars (four million euros).

“With an investment this big, the UN has clout and should not remain silent when abuses occur,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“The UN needs to make it clear that if the Congolese government wants its continued military support, the army should remove abusive soldiers from command positions and its soldiers should stop attacking civilians.

The coalition also said the 3 000 extra peacekeepers requested by the UN in November 2008 are only just arriving in eastern Congo, and that requested helicopter and intelligence support had not materialised.

The coalition, comprising international and Congolese humanitarian and human rights groups, calculated that for every rebel combatant disarmed during the operation, one civilian had been killed, seven women and girls have been raped, six houses burned or destroyed, and 900 people forced to flee.

It used satellite imagery to demonstrate that destruction of homes and villages was widespread, one of the worst affected areas being Busurungi in North Kivu, where 80% of the town’s structures had been destroyed.

The UN says 1 071 FDLR rebels had given up their arms and been repatriated to Rwanda since January.

However, the rights groups said the rebels had recruited new combatants.—Sapa

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