Africa, Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights

Kinshasa Rejects Report of Congolese Army Atrocities

MBANDAKA, DR Congo, May 3 2010 (IPS) - A report alleging that government troops summarily executed fifty civilians in early April in fighting around Mbandaka, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s northwestern Équateur Province has been rejected by the government.

“About fifty Congolese civilians were killed without warning by the Congolese Armed Forces (known by its French acronym, FARDC) in April 2010,” says a report by human rights group ASADHO (Association africaine de défense des droits de l’homme), a group based in Kinshasa, capital of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The report also held the Eyélé rebels for the murder of two civilians.

The report lists the victims, and claims that the killings took place while the FARDC was confronting a local rebellion that briefly took control of the airport in Mbandaka.

At a press conference on Apr. 22, Lambert Omalanga Mende, Congolese Minister of Communications and Media, said the report was riddled with inaccuracies. “it was shown that no ASADHO researchers went to Équateur to investigate the allegations contained in the report,” he said.

Mende said that neither the (provincial) Governor Jean-Claude Baender nor any member of his government, the mayor and councillors of Mbandaka, nor General Ekutsu and his staff of the Thirrd Military Region, nor General Gideon and his police collaborators, or any magistrates remember having met with ASADHO investigators.

The minister said this strips of any credibility the report’s claim that investigators had met politico-administrative, judicial, military and police authorities and rejected ASADHO’s call for an independent commission be established to shed light on the circumstances around the killings.

Responding without giving details of the researchers who carried out the research, George Kapiamba, vice president of ASADHO, told IPS that “the investigation was indeed carried out by a team of professionals on the ground in Équateur.”

A source close to the provincial government who spoke on condition of anonymity told IPS that the report has merit.

“The ASADHO report is quite true on the whole as there were indeed massacres, although it may appear to have exaggerated the number of victims, which does not change the fact that the FARDC executed innocent civilians.”

Pierre Bofunda, a former soldier turned human rights advocate, also supported ASADHO’s claims of extra-judicial killings by the army. “For example, Monday, April 19, a student and a young pregnant woman were executed at their home in the ‘Bolenge pêcheur’ neighborhood, about 10 km from the town of Mbandaka.”

Bofunda says that continuing insecurity in the province is due to FARDC troops attacking people at night, stealing money, mobile phones and any valuables found on their victims.

“Besides, the provincial governor who attended the open hearing after the double murder of Apr. 19, organised a major campaign the following day against the prevailing insecurity in the province by inviting citizens to take the streets and make an uproar when a neighbor is attacked or when they hear of a case,” said Bofunda.

“What do they have to lose by taking the content of this report and launching a proper investigation in collaboration with its authors?” asked Sophie Ekanga, a teacher from Mbandaka. She said she was disgusted that the Congolese authorities were again placing so little value on human life.

Few expect that anyone there will be an investigation, or that anyone will be prosecuted if executions are found to have taken place. Cyprian Abangapakwa, a retired judge, said “The Congolese judicial system, known to be very weak, is not the best institution for the job. Its members can still participate in a investigating committee.

“The fourteen Mbandaka magistrates – ill-equipped, poorly paid, badly housed, scattered throughout the city – are unable to carry out a proper investigation.”

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