DRC rapists 'hunted all night'
Luvungi - Hutu rebels and their militia allies blamed for the mass rape of 284 women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) "hunted all night" and raped old and young alike, one of the survivors told AFP.
"All the women who were there in the village that day were raped," said 30-year-old Monica Tamary, a spokesperson for the women in Luvungi.
"They made no distinction between the old and the young," she added.
Rebels of the Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and their allies the local Mai Mai militia raped girls as young as 13, the mother-of-five said.
"There was no sleep that night. They hunted all night."
The attack on Luvundi, in a remote forested northeastern corner of the DRC, happened one night late in July.
Of the 350 women in the village, the only ones to escape that night were those who were working in the quarries, several hours' walk away, Tamary added.
Luvungi is a small centre for trade in the poor-quality gold extracted from local low-tech mines.
The women there trade food for gold with the miners and sell it on to local dealers. Often, they keep several grams of gold hidden under their clothing, said Tamary.
Intrusive body searches
The rebels, during their attacks, conducted intrusive and intimate body searches of the women on the pretext that they were searching for gold, Tamary said.
She was raped by two attackers in front of her children in her own home.
"When they walked in they already had their flies open," she said.
The men took her baby from her arms, put him on the ground in the corner of the room and raped her.
Mangaza Zawadi, 28, was raped by two men in front of her 8-year-old daughter.
"One of them slapped my daughter because she was crying and screaming and he said to her, 'Stop making noise!'" she said.
Her husband fled into the forest before the ordeal began. "I couldn't stay and protect my wife and daughter. They had guns," he said in front of his wife, who understands his choice to flee.
Buira Lubunga's husband also escaped, just before seven men started raping her. "I can't resent him for that. Each person must save himself. Thank God, we are alive," the 27-year-old said.
These "men without a conscience", as she calls them, raped her in the forest in front of her five children where they were discovered hiding.
Nongovernmental organisation International Medical Corps (IMC) treated victims from August 6 in their local health centres.
IMC doctors checked for infections, administered abortion pills for pregnancies conceived during the rapes and conducted Aids tests on victims and their husbands. Psychologists were also on hand for certain women.
Tantini Kahindu, 16, was raped by three men, and is still in a state of shock, walking with difficulty. "I can't stop thinking about it," she said. "I replay it in my mind, and it disturbs me."
Lubunga returned home on September 4 after spending two weeks in a Kibua hospital, about 20km from Luvungi.
More than a month after the rapes, she still has stomach pains. The emotional scars are also there. "I am always scared but here, this is my home. I cannot go anywhere else."
On Tuesday, a top UN official said UN peacekeepers had failed the victims of mass rapes in eastern DRC, where more than 500 sexual assaults have now been reported in the past month.
Atul Khare, undersecretary general for peacekeeping operations, warned of a growing "culture of sexual violence" in the stricken region.
The UN official said the DRC government is primarily responsible for security, but added: "Clearly we have also failed. Our actions were not adequate, resulting in the unacceptable brutalisation of the villages of the area. We must do better."
He added: "I feel personally guilty to the people who have suffered this brutalisation."