Congo rebels turn over commander charged in mass rapes
JOHANNESBURG — Fellow rebels handed over the Congolese commander charged with leading fighters in the mass gang-rapes of more than 300 people, a UN official said yesterday.
Sadoke Kokunda Mayele is accused of leading dozens of fighters in the atrocities in eastern Congo, but he angered his Mai-Mai militia because his own leader’s family members were among those assaulted.
“His group claimed that he had tarnished their name and that whatever he did was not under their instructions and that they wanted to get rid of him,’’ said Hiroute Guebre Sellassie, head of the UN mission in Congo’s North Kivu Province.
Mayele was handed over Tuesday by his comrades-in-arms at Irameso, the UN official said. Irameso is among several mining villages controlled by rebels in the Walikale district. Mineral resources long have fueled conflict in eastern Congo.
The United Nations said 303 civilians — 235 women, 13 men, 52 girls, and three boys — were raped in 13 villages between July 30 and Aug. 2. Even in eastern Congo, where rape has become a daily hazard and some women have been sexually assaulted repeatedly over the years, such numbers are shocking.
Margot Wallstrom, responsible for UN efforts to combat sexual violence in conflict, called Mayele’s arrest “a signal to all perpetrators of sexual violence that impunity for these types of crimes is not accepted and that justice will prevail.’’
But Jason Stearns, former analyst for the International Crisis Group and a specialist on Congo, said “a sea change of behavior’’ will happen only when commanders take responsibility for the behavior of their soldiers.
He said several commanders whose men committed the rapes in Walikale have close ties to officers in the Congolese military and that such alliances allow perpetrators to continue operating.
Mayele was an officer in the Congolese army before he joined the Mai-Mai militia led by Sheka Ntabo Ntaberi, known as Commander Sheka. A nurse who treated 124 of the rape victims said that one of Sheka’s wives, two of his sisters, and three of his cousins were attacked.
Sheka initially denied his fighters were involved. In an interview with Radio Kivu 1 last month, he blamed FDLR rebels led by Rwandan Hutu perpetrators of that neighboring country’s 1994 genocide.