A Human Rights Watch report accusing the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) soldiers of attacking civilians is ”an attempt to distort the truth”, a government minister said on Tuesday.
”We condemn this as disproportionate and an attempt to delegitimise the Congolese state,” Communication Minister Lambert Mende told reporters. ”[It is] an attempt to distort the truth”.
He also criticised the NGO for what he said was its ”systematic approach” of associating government troops (FARDC) with private militia men.
Mende said that any crimes committed by government soldiers would be dealt with by the courts.
In the report called You Will Be Punished: Attacks on Civilians in Eastern Congo, Human Rrights Watch said at least 1Â 400 civilians were killed from January to September, and said the United Nations should step in to stem the bloodshed.
”Congolese army soldiers and FDLR rebel combatants have attacked civilians, accused them of being collaborators, and ‘punished’ them by chopping many to death with machetes,” said the report released on Monday.
The New York-based group urged the UN to set up a ”civilian protection expert group” to devise measures to help safeguard people in the strife-torn east of the country, where rape is also commonplace and committed by all parties to the conflict.
The UN peacekeeping mission, Monuc, has backed an anti-rebel offensive since March.
The 183-page report cites evidence from 600 victims, witnesses and family members of the victims.
Thousands flee fighting
Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said on Tuesday that about 84Â 000 destitute villagers from northwestern DRC have crossed the border into the Republic of Congo and need aid.
Inter-ethnic violence between two local tribes disputing farming and fishing rights has sparked the exodus. The Enyele and Munzaya tribes are in dispute over farming and fishing rights.
Apart from the refugees in the Republic of Congo, the UNHCR estimated that about 100Â 000 people have been displaced inside the DRC.
”Together with our partners, we are trying to cope with the influx but aid reserves are running low as the number of refugees mushrooms and current needs overcome the actual resources,” UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said.
”In addition, humanitarian agencies are facing considerable logistical obstacles as the entire refugee population is scattered along a 500km stretch on the banks of the Oubangui River.”
The Oubangui forms the border between the two Congos. The communal violence erupted at the end of October in the northwestern DRC town of Dongo between the Enyele, or Lobala, and the Munzaya and Bombona.
Kinshasa’s regular army early this week retook Dongo and has been reinforced, with backing from UN peacekeepers, and has orders to secure the whole territory.
The UNHCR reported signs of recent violence on arriving refugees. ”In the last wave of arrivals, UNHCR staff met people with fresh gunshot wounds, as well as registered nine rape cases, three of whom were girls under 18 years of age.”
The refugees ”live in overcrowded conditions and the risks of respiratory infections, diarrhoea as well as malaria are high.
”Together with its partners, UNHCR has helped create nine health centres near main refugee concentration areas, which need more medicine and personnel. In addition, we are running several mobile clinics for the more remote areas.”
Because there is no clean water, the refugees are using the river. So aid workers are distributing water-purifying tablets to make the water safer for consumption.
Aid agencies have installed six large water bladders with a combined capacity of 60Â 000 litres in the vicinity of Betou in northern ROC where nearly 55Â 000 of the new arrivals are now sheltering.
The UNHCR said that some local people have taken refugees into their homes, ”sharing their meagre resources.” Others have found shelter in public buildings, such as schools.
Relief workers from the UNHCR are planning an assessment mission across the border in the DRC’s tense Equateur province ”as soon as the security conditions permit”. — AFP