UN agency to act on Ituri human rights violations

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), known as MONUC, has pledged to "bring before the courts" perpetrators of crimes committed in the embattled northeastern district of Ituri.

"Those responsible [for the] crimes will be prosecuted," Gen Patrick Cammaert, the acting MONUC commander and chief of the mission's East Division, told reporters on Wednesday at a news conference in the capital, Kinshasa.

Inter-militia fighting in the area has left hundreds of civilians dead, and hundreds of thousands displaced in recent months.

MONUC convened the news conference to present a report it had compiled regarding those responsible for crimes in Ituri.

At the same time, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland, told a news briefing in Geneva that the DRC had overtaken Sudan's Darfur region to become "the biggest, most neglected humanitarian emergency in the world today", and that "sexual abuse in recent years had become probably worse there than anywhere else in the world".

Egeland made the remarks at the beginning of a two-day regional meeting of humanitarian officials.

He said some three million Congolese were in acute need of relief aid "in a complex emergency where many parties were involved, including, at one point, about 20 different armed actors".

Approximately one million people had died in eastern DRC in the past few years, he added, and many preventable deaths continued to occur, despite the efforts of an active humanitarian community.

In Kinshasa, MONUC said it had increased efforts to clamp down on arms supplies to all militia groups in Ituri.

"We can see the flow of arms coming from Uganda, crossing Lake Albert, but we don't know yet who is behind it," Cammaert said. "We want to assure you that you will, when the time comes, see how we are going to conduct the operations on the lake."

MONUC's special human rights section also published a report on human rights violations in Ituri, containing detailed testimonies of survivors of militia attacks, which included claims of cannibalism.

The report told the story of Zainabo Alfani, a mother of three, who said that she had watched militiamen cook and eat two of her children.

"They had in one corner of the room skinned dead bodies, and two other bodies on a grill, and at the same place, they prepared her two young daughters and introduced them in a pot full of boiling water and oil," Crystelle Nyakura, an official in MONUC's human rights section, quoted Alfani as saying.

Her third child, a six-year-old boy, was spared. MONUC reported that Alfani died on Sunday in a Kinshasa hospital after militiamen sexually mutilated and raped her.

Recounting an earlier incident, MONUC said Alfani told them that she had been abducted on 5 June 2003 with some businessmen - who were killed - but that she had survived when the militiamen noticed they could use her long vaginal lips for witchcraft.

She recounted that her vaginal lips were cut off and diced into small pieces, which the militiamen swallowed with water mixed with her blood, according to MONUC.

An inquiry team formed by the UN mission has accused the Front de resistance patriotique de l'Ituri (FRPI), dominated by the Ngiti ethnic group, of having killed civilians, raped women and practiced sexual slavery.

The inquiry said that the FRPI operated mostly in the Similiki 3 area, in the swampy region of Lake Albert, on the border with Uganda. The militia group's activities had paralysed fishing in the lake, MONUC said.

"Most victims were from the Hema/Gegere ethnic group and were often mutilated and executed," said Sonia Bakar, the coordinator of the MONUC's special inquiry on human rights.

She said FRPI commander Eric Mukiru, nicknamed Yuda, was arrested in Kinshasa on 2 March, and would soon be taken to Bunia - the main town in Ituri.