Congo Rebels Accused of War Crimes

November 9th, 2008 - by admin

Emmanuel Braun / Reuters & The United Nations – 2008-11-09 16:22:35

Congo Rebels Accused of War Crimes, Advance Further
Emmanuel Braun / Reuters

KIWANJA, Congo (November 6, 2008) — Congolese Tutsi rebels went from door to door killing men in an eastern town overnight, residents said on Thursday, but rebel commanders said they had targeted only pro-government militia fighters.

US-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the rebels of war crimes in Kiwanja, where journalists accompanying UN peacekeepers found the bodies of a dozen shot civilians a day after rebels drove pro-government militiamen from the town.

The UN.peacekeeping force in Congo (MONUC) said rebels seized fresh territory on Thursday, violating a self-declared ceasefire in Congo’s violent North Kivu province where Tutsi rebel General Laurent Nkunda launched an offensive 11 days ago.

The UN has its largest peacekeeping force — 17,000 strong — in Congo. But commanders say they cannot be everywhere in a vast, violent country the size of Western Europe which despite huge mineral wealth has only 600 km (375 miles) of paved roads.

A stench of death hung over Kiwanja when journalists and UN troops entered. Most of its 30,000 inhabitants fled in panic during fighting on Tuesday and Wednesday. At least a dozen bodies of adult males, five in one house alone, were visible among the mud-walled and tin-roofed homes, a few of them burned, apparently hit by rockets or grenades.

“They knocked on the doors, when the people opened, they killed them with their guns,” said Simo Bramporiki, aged around 60, who said his wife and child were killed during the night.

The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor warned this week the court was closely watching the latest flare-up of a conflict that traces its origins to Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

A distraught woman, crying hysterically, asked journalists to “come and see the five dead bodies in my house.” One was that of her husband. Two more bodies lay outside. Rebel fighters boasted to reporters that they had killed many Mai-Mai militia. Journalists asked the UN peacekeepers, who have a base nearby, why they had not intervened. They did not reply.

“The killing of civilians, the destruction of camps, the forced return of displaced people, and the forced evacuation of towns are all war crimes,” HRW researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg said. “People in Kiwanja heard screams throughout the night.”

There was nothing, neither uniforms nor weapons, to indicate the dead had been fighters. Some wore work overalls. But Nkunda denied his men had killed civilians. “It was against the Mai-Mai (militia) and many were in civilian dress,” he told Reuters by telephone. Rebel commander Major Muhire said Mai-Mai attacked first: “Last night we were attacked by the Mai-Mai and we reacted. That’s all.”

MONUC military spokesman Lt-Col Jean-Paul Dietrich, said: “Even if they were (Mai-Mai) fighters and surrendered, and were then killed, that would be a criminal act.”

Dietrich told Reuters that Nkunda’s rebel forces had also occupied other villages about 80 km (50 miles) north of the North Kivu provincial capital Goma. Nkunda advanced to the outskirts of Goma last week, before declaring a ceasefire. “They have taken Nyanzale and Kikuku, therefore breaking their own declared ceasefire. Now it’s clear they are trying to have a territory completely under their control,” Dietrich said. Nkunda said his forces were maintaining the ceasefire.

Aid agencies scrambled to provide food and medical care to 200,000 refugees crammed in camps around and just north of Goma. But relief workers say that many of over 1 million displaced civilians in North Kivu are out of reach — cut off by fighting, hiding in the bush or isolated in rebel or militia-held zones.

The latest fighting around Rutshuru has worsened a humanitarian situation already described as “catastrophic” by aid agencies in a country where more than 5 million people have died in a decade from conflict, hunger and disease.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, on his way to a regional summit on the crisis to be held in Nairobi on Friday, called for all forces to return to positions they held at end-August. Ban has asked the Security Council to approve a “surge” of 3,000 extra peacekeepers for Congo, but in the midst of a global financial crisis U.N. officials say that could take months.

Ban, as well as the top US diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, will meet the presidents of Congo and Rwanda in Nairobi. Ban has said he will urge Congolese President Joseph Kabila to speak with Nkunda. Kabila’s government has refused to talk directly to the rebels, who say otherwise they will attack Goma.

Congo and Rwanda have accused each other of supporting feuding rebel and militia groups in east Congo.

Nkunda says his 4-year-old revolt aims to defend Congolese Tutsis and accuses Kabila’s army of backing Rwandan Hutu rebels in Congo who took part in Rwanda’s genocide. Congo has accused Tutsi-led Rwanda of backing Nkunda, which Kigali denies.

Additional reporting by Joe Bavier in Kinshasa and Hereward Holland in Goma; writing by Alistair Thomson and Pascal Fletcher; editing by Michael Roddy

© Thomson Reuters 2008. All rights reserved.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

DR Congo Killings ”Constitute War Crimes”, Says UN Official
The United Nations

(8 November 2008) – The recent killing of civilians by armed militia in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) “constitute war crimes,” the top United Nations official to the country said today, while welcoming the outcome of yesterday”s high-level meeting, aimed at ending the crisis.

Violent clashes between renegade-general Laurent Nkunda”s CNDP rebels and pro-government PARECO/Mayi Mayi militia that broke out on Tuesday in the town of Kiwanja, in North Kivu, were condemned by the Secretary-General”s Special Representative in the DRC, Alan Doss, as “serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.”

Mr. Doss, who is also head of the UN mission in the DRC (MONUC), called for all armed groups to withdraw from the area around Rutshuru, the scene of this week”s violent outbreak, to allow MONUC to protect people in the area and enable the safe return of thousands who fled the fighting.

The clashes earlier this week continue the escalation of hostilities in North Kivu province over the last two months between Government forces (FARDC) and the CNDP headed by Mr. Nkunda, which has displaced some 252,000 Congolese, on top of the 800,000 already forced from their homes from previous fighting.

Mr. Doss applauded the statement from the UN-backed summit of African leaders in Nairobi yesterday, which urged for an immediate ceasefire in eastern DRC, and the establishment of a humanitarian corridor to ensure that the hundreds of thousands displaced can get the assistance they need.

“An immediate response can be made to the humanitarian crisis and the immediate implementation of the Joint Nairobi and Goma agreements,” Mr. Doss told reporters while stopping off in Goma on his return from the Nairobi meeting.

The Nairobi communiqué is the November 2007 agreement under which the DRC and Rwanda have agreed to work together against threats to peace and stability in the region. The Goma agreement, signed by the Government and armed groups in January, included a commitment by rebels to withdraw their troops to either disarm or join the brassage process, whereby ex-combatants from armed groups are retrained to form part of FARDC.

“The Summit also established a facilitation mechanism which will involve, ¬in addition to the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes [Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria], all heads of State of the region,” Mr. Doss added.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.