Since the start of the year 1,400 women have been raped in the North Kivu region, according to the UN, and a third of them were underage. (Report: A. Zajtman)
GENEVA, Dec 6 (Reuters) - The International Committee of the
Red Cross on Thursday called on the army and rebels in the
Democratic Republic of Congo to spare civilian lives in their
latest bout of fighting in the country's conflict-ravaged east.
The neutral humanitarian agency voiced special concern at
the fate of women in North Kivu province, who it said were
especially vulnerable to rape in the midst of "mass exodus"
linked to the flare-up in violence.
"The security of civilians trapped by the fighting is
currently our main priority," said Max Hadorn, head of the
ICRC's delegation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Swiss-based ICRC last week said all sides of the
conflict in the former Zaire were killing and raping civilians
and looting on a scale not seen in years.
In a statement issued on Thursday, it reminded the warring
parties of "their obligation under humanitarian law to spare the
lives and physical integrity of civilians, the wounded and
persons captured in connection with the fighting."
Government forces used attack helicopters, rockets and
artillery to retake the strategic town of Mushake -- about 40 km
(25 miles) west of the provincial capital Goma -- on Wednesday,
in a rare victory over rebels loyal to renegade Tutsi General
The fighting came as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice and regional leaders reaffirmed their commitment to peace
in the area where various levels of violence have continued
since a 1998-2003 war.
More than 400,000 people have fled violence in North Kivu
between government soldiers, Nkunda's insurgents, Rwandan Hutu
rebels, and local Mai Mai militia over the past year.
The ICRC noted a "mass exodus" of civilians seeking refuge
in safer areas since Mushake's takeover. Some were trying to
reach camps for displaced persons near Goma while others were
heading for the southern part of Lubero territory.
"There is fear that many will be unable to meet their basic
needs," it said. "Women in particular are due special protection
against rape and all other forms of indecent assault."
Both sides in the conflict are obliged to spare food,
livestock and drinking water facilities which are essential to
the survival of the civilian population, according to the ICRC
which monitors compliance with the Geneva Conventions.
Medical facilities, ambulances and personnel must also be
protected at all times, the humanitarian agency said, further
stressing that children should not be recruited into army forces
or allowed to take part in the fighting.
Date created : 2007-12-06