/ 11 November 2008

UN accuses DRC army of looting, abuses

The United Nations on Tuesday accused government forces of a wave of violence against civilians, including looting and rape, in several towns in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

”Soldiers of the FARDC [Armed Forces of DRC] have been engaged since yesterday [Monday] evening in looting and acts of brutality against the civilian population in the Kanyabayonga area,” 175km north of regional capital Goma, said Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich, spokesperson for the UN mission in DRC, Monuc.

Violence against civilians had spread to other towns further north, Kaina and Kirumba, and was continuing at midday Tuesday, Dietrich said in Kinshasa.

The three towns are strategically located in the north of Nord-Kivu province, where rebels loyal to renegade general Laurent Nkunda control much of the territory following an offensive in recent weeks.

Several villages along the road linking the three towns had been looted and women raped, the UN-run Radio Okapi reported.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Goma said aid workers had become trapped by the violence and Monuc had dispatched patrols to try to get them to safety.

”Personnel from three humanitarian organisations are trapped in the area because of the generalised insecurity,” said Patrick Lavand’homme, the OCHA director in Goma.

Dietrich said the violence began when FARDC forces withdrew from front-line towns of Nyanzale and Kikuku, about 40km to the south of Kanyabayonga.

”This redeployment provoked a wave of discontent and panic in Kanyabayonga among the soldiers and their families. The soldiers began to fire in the air and started stealing cars and looting shops.”

Monuc had dispatched helicopters and armoured patrols to the area to try to pacify the area, said Lavand’homme. The commander of the UN peacekeeping force, Senegalese General Babacar Babacar Gaye was on his way to the area with the FARDC regional commander Vainqueur Mayala, he added.

Earlier, the New-York based Human Rights Watch said at least 50 civilians, far more than previously thought, had been killed during a battle last week in Kiwanja in Nord-Kivu province, and warned that the figure could rise.

The group urged the UN Security Council to act on an October 30 appeal from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to ”urgently increase the number of peacekeepers” to protect civilians in the east of the country.

”The calls from the secretary general and the cries of distress from the Congolese people should not continue to fall on deaf ears … Civilians need protection now from the killing and raping,” it said. — AFP