The UN has accused government troops of looting and committing “acts of brutality” against civilians in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. France 24's Arnaud Zajtman spoke to Congolese soldiers in Goma.
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Government forces went on a rampage of looting and rape against civilians on Tuesday, the UN said, amid warnings of "humanitarian black holes" opening up in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
"Soldiers of the FARDC (Armed Forces of DR Congo) have been engaged since yesterday (Monday) evening in looting and acts of brutality against the civilian population in the Kanyabayonga area," 175 kilometres (110 miles) north of regional capital Goma, MONUC spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich said.
Violence against civilians had spread to the towns of Kaina and Kirumba further north, and continued into the early afternoon Tuesday, the UN Mission in DR Congo spokesman said.
The insecurity forced humanitarian organisations to suspend operations in the area, said Elisabeth Byrs of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
"This type of humanitarian black hole which extends over the zone where access is difficult is growing, which worries us a great deal," Byrs said in Geneva.
The three towns are strategically located in the north of Nord-Kivu province, where rebels loyal to renegade general Laurent Nkunda control much of the territory following an offensive in recent weeks.
Several villages along the road linking the three towns had been looted and women raped, the UN-run Radio Okapi reported.
OCHA's local office in Goma said aid workers had become trapped by the violence and MONUC had dispatched patrols to try to get them to safety.
"Personnel from three humanitarian organisations are trapped in the area because of the generalised insecurity," said Patrick Lavand'homme, OCHA director in Goma.
Dietrich said the violence began when FARDC forces withdrew from the front line towns of Nyanzale and Kikuku, around 40 kilometres to the south of Kanyabayonga.
He said soldiers and their families were unhappy at the pull-out and were also unsettled by rumours of a rebel attack. "The soldiers began to fire in the air and started stealing cars and looting shops," he said.
MONUC had dispatched helicopters and armoured patrols to try to pacify the area, said Dietrich. The commander of the UN peacekeeping force, Senegalese general Babacar Babacar Gaye was on his way to the area with the FARDC regional commander Vainqueur Mayala, he added.
The violence had forced villagers to flee northwards, with many seeking cover in surrounding forests. Aid agencies said more than 253,000 civilians had been displaced since fighting resumed in the region at the end of August, ending a peace deal that had been in place since January.
Dietrich said MONUC was "doing all it can to ensure the situation is not exploited by rebel forces," and later said the front lines did not appear to have changed.
A nurse at Kanyabayonga's hospital, who identified himself only by his first name, Anicet, said the government forces "started looting the town yesterday afternoon and began looting Kirumba this morning. They were firing in the air in all directions. I fled with my family further north."
"The general who commanded the troops here is gone and the soldiers are almost uncontrollable," he added.
Criticism of the indiscipline of the often ill-equipped, badly-trained and poorly-paid soldiers came also from their allies the Mai Mai militia.
"It's regrettable that the regular army should run without hearing a single shot and then start looting the population," a Mai Mai spokesman said.
He said rumours that the rebels had infiltrated the front lines had set off the panic.
Earlier, the New-York based Human Rights Watch said at least 50 civilians, far more than previously thought, had been killed during a battle last week in Kiwanja in Nord-Kivu province, and warned that the figure could rise.
The group urged the UN Security Council to act on an October 30 appeal from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to "urgently increase the number of peacekeepers" to protect civilians in the east of the country.
"The calls from the secretary-general and the cries of distress from the Congolese people should not continue to fall on deaf ears.... Civilians need protection now from the killing and raping," it said.
Date created : 2008-11-11