DRC army commander may face trial for abuses

02 Mar 2010 10:51:41 GMT

Source: Reuters

* 51 human rights groups accuse ex-rebel of atrocities 

* Complaint lists summary executions and rape 

* Government awaits army response, may prosecute 

By Katrina Manson 

KINSHASA, March 2 (Reuters) – The Democratic Republic of Congo will try an army commander accused of mass killing and rape of civilians if a military report backs the allegations against him, a minister said on Tuesday. 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and 50 Congolese groups lodged a formal complaint against Lieutenant Colonel Innocent Zimurinda, a senior officer in the conflict-racked east of the central African country, requesting his suspension. 

The activists say Zimurinda, a former rebel incorporated into the army as part of a peace deal, has overseen or participated in massacres, summary executions, rape, recruitment of children and forced labour. 

They accuse him of ordering the killings of 129 Rwandan Hutu refugees in April 2009 and commanding troops who raped women and girls and shot members of their families in 2009 and 2010. 

“We are waiting for an official report from the army and if they agree with the accusations we will absolutely launch a military court within 24 hours,” Lambert Mende, minister of information, told Reuters. 

“We think it is a good thing they have made these accusations.” 

The government of Congo has been struggling to regain control over the country since a 1998-2003 war and accompanying humanitarian disaster that have killed 5.4 million people. 

Its army has been accused of human rights abuses during a U.N.-backed operation last year against Rwandan Hutu FDLR rebels. 

A new U.N-backed campaign, codenamed Amani Leo, was launched against FDLR fighters at the start of the year, raising new concerns about the behaviour of the army. 

HRW said it had reports of summary executions and rapes under the command of Zimurinda, who was not likely to take part in the latest operation, as recently as two weeks ago. 

“No commander with any track record of human rights abuses should be anywhere near the conflict zone and MONUC (the UN mission in Congo) should insist on that,” Anneke Van Woudenberg of HRW told Reuters by telephone from Goma, adding they might bring complaints against other commanders. 

The United Nations Security Council says U.N. peacekeepers cannot work with army battalions guilty of human rights abuses, and late last year cut aid to some units. 

MONUC says that, with the Congolese government, it is assessing which army commanders it can work with. 

General Amuli Bahigwa, operational commander of Amani Leo, told Reuters by telephone on Tuesday he was in the bush in the east and had not yet read the complaint. (Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Andrew Dobbie)

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