New cases of rape and abuse by police in Equateur

The Human Rights Division of the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has reported new cases of mass rape and abuse of civilians in Equateur Province.

"A group of policemen may have raped 60 women, including two minors, and systematically tortured and plundered civilians who were forced to seek refuge in a nearby forest," Jean-Tobbie Okala, the spokesman for the UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, said on Wednesday in Kinshasa, the nation's capital.

In the latest case, Okala said, nine of the suspected policemen had been arrested and two of the victims had already presented testimony to the military in Equateur's Bolongo district, where the alleged crimes took place.

In April, a military court in the provincial capital, Mbandaka, sentenced seven soldiers to life in prison for crimes against humanity committed in Equateur, including the mass rape of at least 119 women. It was the first time military personnel in the country had been found guilty of crimes against humanity. However, the military garrison court in Songo Mboyo, 600 km northeast of Mbandaka, acquitted five other soldiers of similar charges.

The convicted soldiers committed the crimes in December 2003 at Songo Mboyo. The soldiers initially served in the former rebel movement known as Mouvement pour la liberation du Congo (MLC), which is now a political party. Among the charges the soldiers faced were mass rape, crimes against humanity, robbery, distribution of weapons and ammunitions and insubordination. The court heard that some of the women raped were younger than 18.

According to MONUC, a group of inspectors from its human-rights division went to Equateur Province in April 2004 to conduct investigations against the alleged rape on a massive scale. The team established that on the night of 21 December 2003, the Congolese army battalion based in Songo Mboyo, which were actually MLC troops, had raped 119 women and girls. The battalion rebelled against its commanders, whom they had accused of keeping part of their salaries. The soldiers then robbed almost all the homes in the villages of Songo-Mboyo and Bongandanga.