UN examines communication failure in Congo rapes

Published August 26, 2010

UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council on Thursday examined why two U.N. peacekeeping patrols were not informed by villagers that mass rapes were taking place near their base and said it didn't get answers.

The gang rapes of nearly 200 women and boys by Rwandan and Congolese rebels reportedly occurred over four days within miles of a U.N. peacekeepers' base in Kibua.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the current council president, said members want to hear from Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Atul Khare, immediately after he returns from Congo on Sept. 8.

The council also condemned sexual violence as a human rights abuse and called on the Congo to punish those responsible.

"It is of utmost importance that the Democratic Republic of the Congo continue to pursue its efforts to fight impunity," the council said in a statement released amid growing criticism that more was not done to prevent the attacks.

A Congo government spokesman in Kinasha said Thursday that the country's security forces need more on-the-ground support from the international community to prevent future attacks.

Roger Meece, the new U.N. special representative for Congo, said Wednesday peacekeepers didn't learn about the "horrific" rapes of at least 154 Congolese civilians for nearly two weeks, showing that the force's actions to protect civilians were insufficient.

But the U.N. mission in Congo is looking into reports by an aid worker that U.N. workers knew rebels had occupied communities in the region the day before the attack began on July 30.

U.N. authorities are considering having villages report to the U.N.'s forward operating base daily, and requiring a patrol to investigate if reports are not received.

Following the Security Council briefing, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice issued her country's "strongest possible condemnation" of the gang rapes.

"It was a disturbing briefing, both for what we learned and what we do not know still," Rice said.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent his Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallstrom, to handle the U.N.'s follow-up to the attacks.

Written by ANITA SNOW, Associated Press Writer

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