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Congo rebel commander arrested following mass rape of civilians

UN and Congolese forces arrested a rebel commander on Tuesday for alleged mass rapes in eastern Congo. Rape has been increasingly used by various groups of fighters in eastern Congo to intimidate, punish and control the population.

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AP - U.N. and Congolese forces arrested a rebel commander on Tuesday for alleged mass rapes in eastern Congo.

U.N. headquarters in New York circulated the announcement by the U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo of the arrest of the Mai-Mai commander, known as as Lt. Col. Mayele.

The U.N. announcement said Mayele is suspected of being one of the commanders in the mineral-rich Walikale area from July 30 to Aug. 2 when about 250 people in five villages, mainly women, were repeatedly gang raped, according to Dr. Chris Baguma of the Los Angeles-based International Medical Corps.

It took days for help to arrive, even though the villages are 12 miles (20 kilometers) from a camp of U.N. peacekeepers from India. The U.N. said a peacekeeping patrol drove through one of the villages while it was being held by the fighters, but said peacekeepers took no action because no one told them what was going on.

Rape has been increasingly used by various groups of fighters in eastern Congo to intimidate, punish and control the population, especially in the mining areas. Baguma told AP in Walikale last month that he had seen many, many rape victims ``but I have never seen anything so planned, so systematic, so animalistic.''

According to the U.N. announcement, the mass rapes and human rights violations are said to have been committed by about 200 Congolese Mai-Mai rebels, rebels from the Rwanda-led Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda or FDLR, and elements loyal to former Congolese army Col. Emmanuel Nsengiyumva who was also a rebel in the former Tutsi-led People's National Congress or CNDP.

The U.N. force said a preliminary report from U.N. human rights officials identified 303 civilian victims - 235 women, 13 men, 52 girls and 3 boys. Margot Wallstrom, who is responsible for U.N. efforts to combat sexual violence in conflict, welcomed Mayele's apprehension, calling it ''a victory for justice, especially for the many women who have suffered rapes and other forms of sexual violence.''

''The numerous criminal acts committed under `Lt. Col.' Mayele's command cannot be undone, but let his apprehension be a signal to all perpetrators of sexual violence that impunity for these types of crimes is not accepted and that justice will prevail,'' she said in a statement from the Congolese capital, Kinshasa.

She said she is visiting the country to listen to survivors of the mass rapes ''and to see what we as the United nations can do better.''

The U.N. force, known as MONUSCO, said Mayele had been handed over to military judicial authorities who have opened a judicial inquiry.

MONUSCO said it will continue to pursue those responsible for the mass rapes so they can be brought to justice.

On Monday, Jason Stearns, a Congo expert and a former analyst for the International Crisis Group, wrote in a blog on www.csmonitor.com that ``I am all for the arrest of Colonel Mayele, as there is no doubt that he was involved.''

''But one is left to wonder to what extent this will deter further crimes. Mayele is a small fish, he only controlled a small number of the soldiers committing the rapes ... (His arrest) will probably not change a whole lot,'' Stearns wrote.

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