DRC troops on rape charges
Kinshasha - Eleven government troops, including four officers, are to go on trial in eastern DR Congo on charges of raping three dozen women since early January, judicial sources said on Wednesday.
A military court in the eastern town of Bukavu, in Sud-Kivu province, will try the 11, including a lieutenant-colonel and three majors, in the eastern town of Baraka from Thursday, said Colonel Freddy Mukendi, who heads the court.
The suspects are accused of raping at least 35 women and injuring 32 other people during the night of December 31 to January 1 in the town of Fizi.
The attacks led UN human rights chief Navy Pillay to urge Kinshasa to ensure a prompt investigation and to ask that the perpetrators be brought to justice as soon as possible.
The trial is expected to last 10 days and groups such as the American Bar Association, Avocats Sans Frontieres (Lawyers Without Borders), the UN Development Programme and the UN mission in DRC Monusco are covering travel expenses for the victims and the court as well defence lawyer fees.
Late in January, the government questioned UN allegations that its soldiers raped 67 women that month, saying it only confirmed three cases and had arrested several suspects.
The UN Joint Human Rights Office had said the rapes occurred in the Sud-Kivu and Nord-Kivu provinces in the unstable east of the country, where many armed groups operate, on the night of January 1.
However government troops had only arrived in an area of Nord-Kivu where 32 rapes were allegedly committed on January 2, government spokesperson Lambert Mende said in a statement, expressing "reservations" about the claims.
Rape for revenge
After investigating another 35 rapes allegedly carried out in Sud-Kivu's town of Fizi, the government could only confirm three, he said.
Congolese troops are regularly accused of rape and looting in the volatile east of the country.
The United Nations said that government troops raped the women during an operation to avenge the death of one of their colleagues.
Monday, the UN Security Council raised new concerns over rapes and other attacks on women and children in eastern Congo.
Some attacks have been blamed on the Congolese military, and the 15-member council raised concern that officers accused of perpetrating human rights violations had received major promotions.
It "strongly condemned" recent attacks in North and South Kivu province, particularly in Fizi, where dozens of women were said to have been raped last month by government troops.
It noted the arrest at least 11 soldiers, but said this was just the latest of many incidents of mass rapes in recent months involving hundreds of women.