Congo Watch: UN says won't support Congo army if abuses continue

Thursday, February 09, 2006

UN says won't support Congo army if abuses continue

United Nations peacekeepers will stop fighting alongside Congolese government forces if they continue to commit human rights violations during operations, the world body said on 8 Feb 2006.

The U.N. mission began documenting army abuses after government soldiers killed two people suspected of being militiamen in December, hacking off their limbs and burning their remains in the middle of a town in north-eastern Congo.

UK-based Amnesty International on Wednesday also called for the government, as well as rebels and militia groups that continue to operate in eastern Congo three years after the end of a civil war, to be held accountable for abuses.

NATIONAL ARMY

As Democratic Republic of Congo prepares for elections due by the end of June, U.N. peacekeepers are arming, supporting and fighting alongside poorly paid and ill-equipped government soldiers in an attempt to pacify the lawless east.

Under peace deals that ended Congo's five-year war, tens of thousands of fighters from a plethora of rebel factions, militia groups and units loyal to Kinshasa's government were supposed to be integrated into a cohesive national army.

But just a handful of integrated brigades have been set up and all units are poorly paid, lack training and discipline and have virtually no equipment or logistical support.

Amnesty International said the failure to build a unified army was contributing to instability in the east, where access to resources and ethnic conflicts continue to fuel violence.

Civilians have been complaining for some time of abuses by soldiers, particularly after the United Nations transported hundreds of Congolese troops late last year into the remote town of Aba, where Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels were thought to be based.

"The U.N. brought the soldiers to chase away the LRA rebels. But we now want them back as they were not as bad as these guys who are raping and stealing," one resident told Reuters by phone from the remote province, which borders Sudan.

Congo is due to hold elections by the middle of this year but ongoing insecurity is threatening the process and, experts say, killing 1,000 people daily on top of the 4 million thought to have died from war-related hunger and disease since 1998.

Full report (Reuters) by David Lewis.

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