African Press International (API)

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Congo rebels to hold rally in seized territory

Posted by African Press International on November 23, 2008

Written By:AP,Posted: Sat, Nov 22, 2008

Congo’s rebel leader is expected to hold his first public rally Saturday in the territory his fighters seized during a lightning advance last month in the eastern part of the country.

Rebel spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa said leader Laurent Nkunda’s rally will take place at a stadium in Rutshuru, the biggest town under the rebels’ control. Rutshuru is about 45 miles north of the provincial capital, Goma.

Fighting between government forces and Nkunda’s men surged in August, creating a humanitarian crisis that has uprooted more than 250,000 people from their homes and prompted the U.N. to approve more than 3,000 more peacekeepers for the troubled Central African nation.

Nkunda says he is fighting to protect Congo’s minorities, especially ethnic Tutsis, from Hutus who fled to Congo after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

But critics say he is more interested in raw power and accuse his forces of committing multiple human rights abuses. Congo’s army and other militias have also been accused of pillage, rape and extra-judicial killings.

Many civilians in the east see Nkunda as a puppet of Rwanda, which invaded Congo twice in the 1990s to eradicate the Hutu militias but got sidetracked in a quest for mineral wealth.

In late October, Nkunda’s fighters advanced just north of Goma, forcing Congo’s army into a humiliating retreat. The rebels called a unilateral cease-fire, but sporadic clashes with the army and pro-government militias have continued.

Rebels seized the main road running north from Goma to Rutshuru, enabling Nkunda to join his previously isolated stronghold of Kitchanga with a rebel zone further east along a volcanic mountain chain that straddles the borders of neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.

Most of the area is rural pastureland, and its greatest value lies in giving rebels a stronger hand to force the government to negotiate.

Today, rebels are digging in, collecting road taxes and replacing some town officials with their own people. Congolese rights groups say the rebels have also been forcibly recruiting young men and children into their ranks.

The U.N.’s 17,000-strong peacekeeping mission has been criticized for failing to stop the violence. And Congo’s president has said the 3,100 additional troops proposed by the U.N. would not be enough to halt the unfolding disaster.

New York-based International Rescue Committee said sexual violence was on the rise against women and girls at the sprawling camps at Kibit, just north of Goma, that house around 60,000 people.

The agency said women and girls were being raped “both in and around the camp.”

Late Friday, a group of aid agencies said they had conducted a survey showing that around 63 percent of the people displaced in the latest fighting had become separated from one more close relatives.

They said over 26 percent had lost contact with a child and 17 percent with a husband or wife.

“Many of those we surveyed have no idea if their children, spouses and other close relatives are alive or dead,” said Brendan Gormley, chief executive of Britain’s Disasters and Emergency Committee.

Looting soldiers tried to rape one woman and fatally shot another at a refugee camp on Thursday night. Tumayini Kahumba, 20, was fatally shot as she slept next to her mother and two siblings in a tent, uncle Jean-Dieu Bansi said.

“When the soldiers got here, they wanted to rape a woman. She screamed a lot and the people woke up to help her. They (soldiers) began to shoot in the air to try to spread the crowd. They were also looting,” Bansi said.



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