Congo army 'needs help to prevent mass rapes'

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s army needs more international help to prevent brutal rebel attacks such as the recent mass gang-rape, a government spokesman said today.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s army needs more international help to prevent brutal rebel attacks such as the recent mass gang-rape, a government spokesman said today.

Information Minister Lambert Mende also charged that the United Nations exaggerates the amount of rape in DR Congo and said its top official for sexual violence in conflict is wrong to call the country the “rape capital of the world”.

Mr Mende spoke at a news conference called to respond to criticisms that more should have been done to prevent the latest atrocity, where nearly 200 women and four baby boys were raped over four days within miles of a UN peacekeepers’ base.

Mr Mende said DR Congo’s army needs more on-the-ground support for its security forces from the international community.

But the UN peacekeeping and stabilisation mission in DR Congo already has faced a barrage of criticism for its support of offensives against rebels which have seen more than 60,000 soldiers – more than one-third of DR Congo’s army – spread across eastern Congo and often preying on the population.

Civil society leaders recently have been calling for the demilitarisation of some zones, saying the soldiers, often unpaid, are as much a danger to the population as rebels.

Thousands of soldiers in the army were rebels until recently and have received little training.

They include officers wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague.

The army itself was cobbled together hastily from the soldiers of ousted dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and the rebel armies that helped force him from power.

UN support for the offensive is limited to transport, food, fuel and medical evacuations.

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