15 000 rapes in stricken DR Congo region last year: envoy

More than 15?000 rapes were committed last year in a strife-torn region of Democratic Republic of Congo where peacekeepers cannot guarantee civilian security, a top UN official said yesterday.

With accusations now being made against DR Congo government troops of new cases of raping and killing in the east of the country, the head of the UN force, Roger Meece, said “the scale of the problem is enormous”.

The chief of the UN Mission in DRC, Monusco, appeared before the UN Security Council the day after a UN envoy said government troops were attacking women and killing in the same villages where mass rapes were reported in July and August.

Meece was unable to give details of the new attacks, but he said: “The best data available, for example, suggests that more than 15?000 rapes were committed last year in eastern DRC.”

Armed groups operate over a wide area and often mix with the civilian population, he added.

“In this vast area – larger than the size of Afghanistan – it is not possible for Monusco to ensure full protection for all civilians. To approach this goal would require vastly greater force levels and resources,” Meece told the Security Council.

Margot Wallstrom, UN special envoy on sexual violence against women in conflict said Monusco had reported new attacks by troops who were conducting an operation to enforce a government moratorium on illegal mining and in a bid to take control of the region from rebels and militias.

“The possibility that the same communities that were brutalised in July and August by FDLR and Mai-Mai elements are now also suffering exactions at the hands of FARDC (government) troops is unimaginable and unacceptable,” Wallstrom said.

She has already blamed the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and Mai-Mai militia for the mass rapes in July and August.

Meece said UN peacekeepers were not involved in the government’s military operation. He added that the UN mission was putting pressure on the government to bring to justice anyone responsible for such “atrocities.”

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