June 26, 2009 / 4:10 PM / in 8 years

Civilians face "double danger" in Congo, UN says

* Rapes by uniformed men go unpunished, UN aid official says

* Rwandan Hutu rebels also carry out reprisal killings

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, June 26 (Reuters) - Civilians in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are caught between men in uniform who rape with impunity and Rwandan Hutu rebels who commit brutal reprisal killings, the top U.N. aid official there said on Friday.

Ross Mountain, United Nations humanitarian coordinator in the country, called on the Kinshasa government to halt sexual violence against women and girls and to prosecute army and police responsible for the “scourge”.

Congo allowed thousands of Rwandan soldiers into its violence-ravaged North Kivu province in January to take on the Rwandan Hutu rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) based there.

Congo’s own army is not a coherent force following the rapid integration of former militia forces known for sexual violence, he said. “Not all rapes and attacks against women are done by the military. But a very substantial proportion are done by men in uniform.”

“So civilians in this context are very much caught in the middle. While there is a military operation to try to get rid of foreign armed groups in the country, the impact on the civilian population is dramatic and increasing,” he said. “Unfortunately for the civilian population there is the double danger.”

FLEEING MASSACRES

FDLR fighters, some of whom orchestrated Rwanda’s 1994 genocide in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, have returned to many of their former positions since Rwanda withdrew its army in late February, provoking violence and displacement.

Some 350,000 people in North Kivu have fled zones where the FDLR were dominant, according to Mountain.

Most of the Tutsi-dominated National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), the main militia group which had threatened Goma late last year, and other militia groups have joined the army or been demobilised, he said. That has allowed some 300,000 internally displaced people to go home.

In eastern Congo, an area the size of France, efforts are also underway against the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Ugandan force known for its brutality and forced recruitment of children, he said. The force committed a Christmas Day massacre of 600 civilians with machetes, Mountain said.

“The mere threat, because of their violence, of them approaching anywhere, causes people to leave,” said Mountain, a senior U.N. aid veteran from New Zealand.

“We are looking at something like 1,200 having been killed in the last six months and about 1,400 to 1,500 taken hostage as forced labourers, as they (the LRA) were renowned for doing in south Sudan and Uganda,” he said. (Editing by Daniel Magnowski and Jon Hemming)

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