Mass Rape And Violence In Congo Over Past Two Months: Human Rights Watch

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DAKAR, Senegal — At least 90 women have been raped and 180 villagers killed over the past two months by rebels as well as government forces in volatile eastern Congo, a top human rights group said in a report Thursday.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said it documented the rapes, killings and burning of dozens of villages by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR.

That force is made up primarily of Rwandan nationals who fled across the border into Congo after orchestrating Rwanda's 1994 genocide of a half-a-million people. Their continued presence in Congo 15 years later has been a major point of contention between the Congolese and Rwandan governments _ and in January, Congo allowed Rwandan troops to enter the country in a joint effort to root out the FDLR.

But while the offensive led to capitulation of dozens of the rebels, who turned themselves in to U.N.-organized repatriation camps, the military operation was devastating for civilians.

"The FDLR are deliberately killing and raping Congolese civilians as apparent punishment for the military operations against them," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch and an expert on Congo.

Woudenberg says that the militia was temporarily pushed out of their military positions in January and February, but after the withdrawal of Rwandan troops on Feb. 24, the FDLR reoccupied many of their former bases.

Among the attacks documented is the murder of a 10-year-old girl who was battered against a brick wall in the village of Kibua on Jan. 27 _ one of the rebels' former bases. Dozens of other civilians were hacked to death by the rebels.

While the majority of the killings are being carried out by the Rwandan militia, Human Rights Watch also found evidence of major abuses by the Congolese army, which is chronically ill-disciplined.

Last month, a group of women from the town of Ziralo were stopped by troops at a checkpost. They gang raped them. One of the four women was six-months pregnant and suffered a miscarriage as a result of the rape, said the rights group.

In the most recent development, 10 people were killed in clashes in the town of Uvira in eastern Congo on Thursday morning, said Dr. Alois Kabana, the medical inspector for Uvira. The governor of the town, Louis Muderwa, says armed men attacked the local prison to liberate detainees. Locals immediately pointed the finger at the Rwandan militia. Muderwa declined to say if the FDLR was involved, saying an investigation had been launched.

The United Nations estimates that a quarter-of-a-million people have fled their homes in eastern Congo since the military operation began. That's in addition to hundreds of thousands of others who fled earlier outbursts of violence.

Among the sources of instability cited by Human Rights Watch is the fact that the Congolese army has recently added 10,000 new soldiers who were previously fighters for local rebel groups. These ex-rebels turned themselves in, as required under a U.N.-organized reintegration plan, but the process is flawed, says the rights group.

"The rapidly mixed brigades of former enemies have been sent to the front lines with no salaries, rations, or any formal training, increasing the likelihood of future human rights violations," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Among the former rebels integrated into the regular army are Bosco Ntaganda, who was recently promoted to the position of general. He is wanted on an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court for enlisting child soldiers and is accused of commanding the rebel troops that massacred 150 villagers in the town of Kiwanja last November.

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