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DR Congo Troops Accused in New Rape Atrocities

UNITED NATIONS  – DR Congo government troops are raping and killing women in remote villages where hundreds were the victims of mass rapes by militias just a few weeks ago, a top UN envoy has said.

A Congolese woman walks down the main road in a village where hundreds of women and children were raped earlier this year. (Photograph: Marc Hoffer/AFP/Getty Images) Margot Wallstrom, UN special envoy on sexual violence against women in conflict, said it was "unimaginable" that the same communities in the mineral-rich eastern Democratic Republic of Congo were again the target of sexual assaults.

She said the UN mission, MONUSCO, had reported new attacks in the Walikale region where in late July and August militias and Rwandan rebels rounded up women and raped them in front of their villages and families.

Wallstrom has in the past called DR Congo the "rape capital" of the world.

"I am gravely concerned about the ongoing military operations by FARDC (DR Congo army) in the Walikale territory and the implications for the protection of civilians," she told the UN Security Council on Thursday.

"Thousands of FARDC troops have now been deployed to the territory in an operation to implement the president's moratorium on mining in the area and to reassert government control.

"There is already some information from MONUSCO peacekeepers on the ground that rapes, killings and lootings have been perpetrated by FARDC soldiers.

"The possibility that the same communities that were brutalized in July and August by FDLR and Mai-Mai elements are now also suffering exactions at the hands of FARDC troops is unimaginable and unacceptable."

Wallstrom called on the DR Congo government to quickly investigate the new attacks and "hold any perpetrators to account."

She had blamed the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and Mai-Mai militia for the mass rapes in July and August.

A Mai-Mai leader, Lieutenant Colonel Mayele, was arrested in an operation by Indian peacekeepers with the MONUSCO mission on October 5.

Wallstrom praised the Indian soldiers and called the arrest of Mayele an "important precedent".

"When commanders can no longer rest easy in the certainty of impunity, when it begins to cross their mind that they may be turned in by their own, for commissioning or condoning rape, this is the moment when we open a new front in the battle to end impunity," she said.

She said the Security Council should "escalate" the focus of the DR Congo sanctions committee on sexual crimes.

Wallstrom identified a militia leader, Lieutenant Colonel Seraphim, of the FDLR, and said he should be added to the list of those facing international sanctions, alleging that he was also to blamed for the mass rapes in July and August.

Wallstrom said the arrests sent a strong signal to the thousands of victims of rape in DR Congo each year, calling it: "A moment of solace, that the world is not blind to their plight."

But also highlighted what she called the "nexus" between the pattern of rapes and attacks and the presence of the huge mineral and natural resource wealth in eastern DR Congo.

"The mineral wealth that should be the source of their great prosperity is instead the source of their greatest suffering," she declared.

Wallstrom said that UN peacekeepers in DR Congo are "overstretched and under-resourced" with a "widening gap" between the expectations made of the force and the means it is given.

"They are demoralized by the sheer scale of the problems and constant barrage of criticism from all quarters."

MONUSCO has about 20,000 staff and troops from more than 50 countries. Costing more than 1.3 billion dollars a year, it is one of the world's biggest UN security operations.

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