By Carley Petesch
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
JOHANNESBURG, Oct. 13 -- More than 1,000 civilians have been killed and nearly 900,000 displaced in eastern Congo by Rwandan Hutu militiamen and Congolese forces since January, humanitarian groups said Tuesday.
The report released by a coalition of 84 organizations said that many of the killings were carried out by Rwandan Hutu militiamen. Congolese government soldiers also have targeted civilians, the report said.
A Congolese military operation has been aimed at forcing out the Hutu militiamen, many of whom sought refuge in neighboring Congo after participating in Rwanda's 1994 genocide, which killed more than 500,000 people.
But the groups said Tuesday that the military operation, which is backed by a U.N. peacekeeping force, is not doing enough to protect civilians in the region.
"The human rights and humanitarian consequences of the current military operation are simply disastrous," said Marcel Stoessel of Oxfam.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUC, has backed the Congolese army in eastern Congo since March, after a joint Congolese and Rwandan operation against the Rwandan Hutu militiamen.
Lt. Col. Jean-Paul Dietrich, military spokesman for the mission, said the United Nations is working hard to protect civilians in the region.
"We are in conversations with the government, who knows our position on this subject -- the officers who have committed these crimes cannot participate in the army and should be tried by the international or national judicial systems," he said.
However, U.N. officials have said that they do not have enough boots on the ground to perform effectively in Congo, a country bigger than Western Europe but with only 300 miles of paved roads.
The 3,000 additional U.N. peacekeepers authorized by the U.N. Security Council in November are only just arriving in the region, the report said.
"The U.N. needs to make it clear that if the Congolese government wants its continued military support, the army should remove abusive soldiers from command positions and its soldiers should stop attacking civilians," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.