- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 12, 2009

GOMA, Congo | Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday toured an African refugee camp crowded with victims of violence and malnutrition, pledging $17 million in U.S. aid to help stem the tide of rampant sexual abuse that has staggered war-ravaged eastern Congo.

Mrs. Clinton’s voice cracked with emotion as she described an epidemic of rapes that has convulsed Congo during 10 years of internecine conflict. “We say to the world that those who attack civilian populations using systematic rape are guilty of crimes against humanity,” she said.

Mrs. Clinton toured Magunga Camp, a dust-choked warren of tents and tin-lined huts in eastern Congo that is home to 18,000 men, women and children. Most were uprooted from their villages by the on-again, off-again conflict between Congolese troops and rebel forces that has killed more than 5 million people since 1998.

“We believe there should be no impunity for the sexual and gender-based violence committed by so many — that there must be arrests and prosecutions and punishment,” she said during a press conference with Congolese Foreign Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba in the eastern city of Goma.

At least $10 million of the $17 million pledged by Mrs. Clinton will be used to train doctors to treat victims of brutal sexual attacks. Some of the funds will be aimed at preventing abuse.

Camp residents told Mrs. Clinton that women, girls and boys are often raped when they leave the camp to go into a forest to gather wood for cooking.

Mrs. Clinton flew to Goma, the regional capital of war-pocked eastern Congo, aboard a U.N. plane over the objections of some top aides who worried about her security. She is the first U.S. secretary of state to visit the city, according to the State Department historian’s office.

The United Nations has recorded at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence against women and girls in the region since the conflict erupted in 1996, something Mrs. Clinton deplored as “one of mankind’s greatest atrocities” before she arrived.

Mrs. Clinton urged the youths of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to mount nationwide protests against such abuses and said she would push the government hard on the issue.

Although fighting has eased since a 2003 peace deal, the army and rebel groups, fighting over eastern Congo’s vast mineral wealth, are still attacking villages, killing civilians and committing atrocities.

Earlier in the day, Mrs. Clinton delivered a strong message to Congolese President Joseph Kabila when they met in a tent at a compound in Goma, on the shore of Lake Kivu.

She said the U.S. will send a team of legal, financial and technical specialists to come up with specific recommendations for overcoming Congo’s problems with corruption. Mrs. Clinton said Mr. Kabila had accepted the offer.

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