* Government rejects report as “textbook fraud”
By Thomas Hubert
KINSHASA, April 22 (Reuters) – A Congolese rights group has accused government soldiers of summarily executing 49 people during clashes with rebels earlier this month, but the government rejected the report as “fraud”.
Rebels attacked the town of Mbandaka, seizing the airport in a sign that their northern Equateur insurgency was spreading, before Congo’s army and United Nations peacekeepers retook control of the situation after two days of fighting.
“There were 51 summary executions, two of which were committed by the Enyele. The 49 others are attributable to the (Congolese army),” Jean-Claude Katende, president of rights group ASADHO and editor of the report, told Reuters on Thursday.
ASADHO, a member of the International Federation for Human Rights, said the army’s victims were killed because they were suspected of sympathising with the Enyele, the ethnic group leading the rebellion in Congo’s Equateur province.
Congo’s government has cited the successful recapture of the airport as proof of progress in the military’s efforts to snuff out rebellions and further reason for U.N. peacekeepers to start withdrawing from the country later this year.
The U.N., however, is reluctant to start withdrawing peacekeepers due to simmering insecurity in Congo and the lack of progress in turning a plethora of former rebel and pro-government factions into a cohesive national army.
While acknowledging that two civilians had been killed by the armed forces during the operation to retake the town, Congolese Information Minister Lambert Mende described the report as “a textbook case of fraud”.
Mende said that the report was riddled with inaccuracies and that local authorities quoted by ASADHO had denied supplying information to the group. “This feeds our doubts as to the authors of the report actually travelled to Mbandaka,” he said.
ASADHO said its sources included local civilian and military authorities, hospitals, religious communities, as well as Mbandaka residents.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission is investigating reports of civilian deaths but has not yet published its findings.
Kinshasa is keen to see the U.N.’s 22,000-strong mission start pulling out this year, ahead of independence day celebrations. President Joseph Kabila also wants the last blue helmet out next year, when he is due to face re-election.
However, the Enyele rebellion is just one of a handful of insurgencies that the government is facing and government forces are repeatedly accused of committing serious human rights abuses during operations. (Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Charles Dick)