Rights groups slam army in Congo

KINSASA: Rights groups today 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 DR of Congo.