- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

BENI, Congo Amuzati Nzoli, a middle-aged Pygmy, watched hiding in the bushes in northeastern Congo as rebel soldiers turned from killers into cannibals. His 6-year-old nephew was their victim.
Human-rights activists and investigators from the United Nations say rebels cooked and ate at least a dozen Pygmies and an undetermined number of people from other tribes during recent fighting with rival insurgents.
Pygmies have no calendar, so Mr. Nzoli can't say exactly when the rebels from the Congolese Liberation Movement invaded his forest camp and slaughtered the dozen persons found at the camp.
As Mr. Nzoli returned from hunting, he saw the rebel fighters butcher his nephew, Kebe Musika. They roasted his body parts over an open fire, grabbing pieces from the smoldering embers.
"They even sprinkled salt on the flesh as they ate, as if cannibalism was all very natural to them," Mr. Nzoli said.
"I don't remember any of their faces, but the one thing that I won't ever forget is the sight of their eyes as they ate," Mr. Nzoli said. "They looked wild, evil and unlike any I have ever seen."
It is not the first time cannibalism has been reported in Congo. It generally occurs during great upheaval, such as the Simba rebellion in 1964.
The latest upheaval is the country's 4-year civil war, which has left an estimated 2.5 million people dead, the vast majority from starvation.
The cannibalistic attacks are fueled by a mix of tribal animosities, a desire to spread fear in the region and a belief among some that eating one's foes is a source of power.
The rebels used cannibalism "to provoke terrible fear in their foes and pave the way to dramatic success in the battlefield," said the Rev. Apollinaire Kighoma, a Roman Catholic priest in Mangina, 19 miles northwest of Beni.
The priest has heard accounts about the practice from hundreds of people displaced by fighting who have taken refuge at his church.
Most of the reported acts of cannibalism took place in November and December, when the Congolese Liberation Movement began a successful offensive to retake Mambasa, a town about 70 miles northwest of Beni.
The group had previously lost the town to a rival rebel group, the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Liberation Movement, which was allied with Mai-Mai tribal fighters. The Mai-Mai believe witchcraft endows them with supernatural power to transform bullets into water.
Witch doctors reportedly told troops from the Congolese Liberation Movement that the Mai-Mai were vulnerable to bullets fired by people who had eaten the hearts of young men, said Jackson Basikania, coordinator of the Program for Assistance to Pygmies in Congo.
The rebels also killed several members of Nande, the tribe from which most of the leadership of the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Liberation Movement is drawn.
Many in northeastern Congo a fertile and resource-rich region of the vast Central African country regard Pygmies as less than human. Original inhabitants of Congo, they live deep in the forests, eking out an existence by hunting and gathering food from small nomadic base camps.
Jean-Pierre Bemba, the leader of the Congolese Liberation Movement, says he is "shocked" by reports that his troops ate people. "I don't even know how to explain it," he said by telephone from his headquarters in Gbadolite, about 630 miles northwest of Beni.

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