UN envoy accuses Congo militia, rebels of war crimes
Dozens of civilians were executed, rights group says
KIBATI, Congo - Rebels and militiamen who fought one another in an east Congo town this week committed war crimes by executing civilians, Congo's top United Nations envoy said yesterday. An independent human rights group said it believes dozens of people were killed.
The UN made the accusation as the Congolese Army advanced toward rebel lines in renewed fighting near the provincial capital, Goma, that threatens a fragile rebel-called cease-fire.
Fighting broke out Friday near Kibati, about 6 miles north of Goma. By yesterday morning the army had moved more than half a mile north into a no man's land that had been unpatrolled since the rebels called a cease-fire 10 days ago after routing the army.
A half-mile north of the soldiers, small groups of weary rebels trooped along the road. Half the houses in Kibati - a village flooded by more than 50,000 refugees last week - appeared deserted. Empty ammunition boxes and spent casings littered the road. Thousands of people milled about a refugee camp in the area.
Thousands of others were on the move again yesterday. Some have been on the run for weeks, taking children, goats, and bundles of belongings as they try to keep ahead of the violence.
Aid workers say these huge movements of people threaten to spread epidemics of cholera, measles, and severe diarrhea that had been contained in refugee camps.
In Goma, UN and independent investigators said the rebel forces of General Laurent Nkunda and a progovernment militia committed summary executions of civilians in their homes this week in Kiwanja, 48 miles north of Goma.
Alan Doss, the UN's top official in Congo, said the fighters carried out "war crimes that we cannot tolerate."
UN investigators on Friday visited 11 graves containing what villagers said were 26 bodies, said Sylvie van den Wildenberg, UN spokeswoman. New York-based Human Rights Watch said the death toll could be higher.
"We are getting reports of more than 50 dead, but we are still in the process of confirming that information," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, a researcher with Human Rights Watch.
Rebel soldiers said Thursday that they killed 60 people in the village, but that they were all combatants even though many were not in uniform.
Van den Wildenberg said it appeared the rebels committed many more executions than the militia. UN officials say residents suffered two waves of terror: first the Mai Mai militia came in and killed people it accused of supporting the rebels; then the rebels won control and killed those they alleged had supported the militia.
Residents said the rebels killed many of their victims execution-style, with bullets to the head. Some residents said the rebels then dressed the dead, most of them young men, in military uniforms.
The conflict is fueled by ethnic hatred left over from the 1994 slaughter of a half-million Tutsis in Rwanda. Nkunda says he is fighting to protect minority Tutsis from Rwandan Hutu rebels who participated in the genocide and then fled to Congo.
Near Goma yesterday, hundreds of soldiers stood guard along the road. Others could be seen through the fog that shrouded nearby hills.
Among them, reporters saw Portuguese-speaking black soldiers wearing green berets with pins in the shape of a map of Angola. As of Friday, chief UN envoy to Congo Alan Doss said he did not have direct independent confirmation that Angolan soldiers were in Congo.
Van den Wildenberg said people could be confused by Congolese Army soldiers who lived in exile in Angola for years fighting for the separatist Katanga Tigers. She said she did not know why the soldiers' berets would have pins with a map of Angola.
The presence of Angolans could be seen as a provocation by neighboring Rwanda, raising fears that Congo's conflicts could again spill over its borders.