Militia mutilates toddlers, burns villages in central Congo - UN


Reuters

UPDATE 1-Militia mutilates toddlers, burns villages in central Congo - UN


* Catholic Church says more than 3,000 killed since August
    * Violence has risen since Kabila extended tenure as
president
    * Congo government dismisses U.N. report

 (Adds quotes, details, response by Congolese human rights
minister)
    By Tom Miles and Aaron RossGENEVA/KINSHASA, June 20 (Reuters) - The U.N. rights chief
said on Tuesday a militia linked to Democratic Republic of
Congo's government has committed a string of
ethnically-motivated attacks in recent months, including cutting
off toddlers' limbs and stabbing pregnant women.
    Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein called for an international
investigation, saying the Kinshasa government had not done
enough to look into the atrocities. Congo's human rights
minister dismissed that statement.
    Zeid told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva he had
reports the Bana Mura militia was backing the government in its
fight against insurgents in the central Kasai region, and had
focused attacks on two ethnic groups, the Luba and Lulua.
    "Refugees from multiple villages in the Kamonya territory
indicated that the Bana Mura have in the past two months shot
dead, hacked or burned to death, and mutilated, hundreds of
villagers, as well as destroying entire villages," Zeid said.
    Congo's government has been fighting insurgents in Kasai
since last August, triggering fears of a wider conflict in the
large central African country, which is a tinderbox of ethnic
rivalry and competing claims over mineral resources.
    Wars at the turn of the century killed millions and involved
more than a half-dozen neighbouring countries. [nL8N1JH1TD]
    Violence has increased since December, when President Joseph
Kabila decided to stay in power beyond the end of his two-term
mandate on the grounds that more time was needed to prepare for
elections. Kasai is an opposition stronghold.
    Congo's Human Rights Minister Marie Ange Mushobekwa told the
council her government was investigating the reports of
atrocities and had nothing to hide, suggesting the accusations
were politically motivated.
    "Some countries ... should not try to use the Human Rights
Council - such a respectable institution - to settle scores with
states whose leaders they don't like," she said.

    MASS GRAVES
    She dismissed earlier reports from Zeid's team of the
discovery of mass graves in the territory, saying one site had
turned out to contain just a rifle and another a motorcycle.
    "The sad truth is that they are looking for mass graves
everywhere except where they may actually exist," she told the
council.
    Zeid said U.N. investigators had seen children as young as
two whose limbs had been chopped off and babies had machete
wounds and severe burns.
    "One two-month-old baby seen by my team had been hit by two
bullets four hours after birth; the mother was also wounded. At
least two pregnant women were sliced open and their foetuses
mutilated," he added.
    He asked the rights council to authorise an international
investigation as progress in Congolese investigations "has
clearly been insufficient in view of the massive scale and
horrific nature of the crimes that have taken place and, sadly,
continue".
    Security forces and the Kamuina Nsapu militia have killed at
least 3,383 people in Kasai since October, the Catholic church
said on Tuesday, citing its own sources in the remote territory
bordering Angola.
    The report said the army destroyed 10 villages as it sought
to stamp out an insurrection and accused the militia of killing
hundreds of people, destroying four villages and attacking
church property in a campaign to drive out government troops.
    No one was immediately available to comment from the militia
or the army, which has dismissed previous accusations of abuses.
But the report will carry considerable weight in a country where
about 40 percent of the population identifies as Catholic.
    Fighting surged in Kasai in August when the army killed a
chief who had been calling for central government forces to quit
the region, saying it should be left to local leaders.
    The U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva is due to decide
this week whether to authorise an investigation into the Kasai
violence. U.N. investigators say they have discovered 42 mass
graves. [nL8N1JG5NM]

 (Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg, editing by Ed Osmond)
 ((tom.miles@thomsonreuters.com; +41 58 306 2006; Reuters
Messaging: tom.miles.reuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: CONGO VIOLENCE/UN (UPDATE 1)



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