- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2008

GOMA, Congo

Hundreds of Congolese soldiers rampaged through several villages in eastern Congo, raping women and pillaging homes as they pulled back ahead of a feared rebel advance, the U.N. reported Tuesday.

U.N. peacekeeping spokesman Col. Jean-Paul Dietrich said the army troops had reportedly raped civilians near the town of Kanyabayonga in violent attacks that began overnight and lasted into Tuesday morning.

Kanyabayonga is 60 miles north of the provincial capital, Goma.

Col. Dietrich said 700 to 800 Congolese soldiers then fled Kanyabayonga and went on a rampage through several villages to the north.

“They looted vehicles; they looted some houses,” he said by telephone from Kinshasa, the national capital.

A rare nighttime gunbattle erupted late Tuesday between rebels and the army just north of Goma, and the U.N. said it was trying to get the warring sides to move farther apart. Mortars were also used during the nearly one-hour fight near Kibati, Col. Dietrich said.

Kibati is six miles north of Goma and home to 75,000 people, who have been repeatedly forced to flee the fighting.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Tuesday for an immediate cease-fire so aid workers could urgently help “at least 100,000 refugees” cut off in rebel-held areas north of Goma.

“Because of the ongoing fighting, these people have received virtually no assistance. Their situation has grown increasingly desperate,” Mr. Ban said.

The U.N. chief also said he was “very concerned by reports of targeted killings of civilians, looting and rape.”

Mr. Ban said about 3,000 more U.N. peacekeeping soldiers and police were urgently needed to bolster the 17,000-strong U.N. force in Congo that has been unable to stop the fighting or halt the rebel advance.

The U.N. Security Council was meeting Tuesday to take up Mr. Ban’s request.

Aid workers were trying to gain access to the towns of Rutshuru and Kiwanja, both 10 miles south of Kanyabayonga in rebel-held territory, where they expected the need for food was urgent.

At least 250,000 people have been displaced by 10 weeks of fighting between army troops and rebels led by renegade general Laurent Nkunda.

A rebel spokesman said any aid workers who wanted to help civilians trapped on rebel-held territory would be safe.

“If there are NGOs who want to come to Rutshuru, they are welcome to come,” rebel spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa said.

Congo’s armed forces are notoriously ill-disciplined, with soldiers historically better at looting than standing their ground. In recent days, some have been seen manning checkpoints drunk.

The fighting in eastern Congo is fueled by ethnic hatred left over from the 1994 slaughter of at least 500,000 Tutsis in neighboring Rwanda. Mr. Nkunda says he is fighting to protect minority Tutsis from Rwandan Hutu militants who participated in the genocide before escaping to Congo.

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