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Amnesty International Demands Investigations into DRC Political Violence

Human rights group Amnesty International released a report Thursday calling on the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to rein in its security troops and prosecute those accused of torture, murder and rape. The rights group says much of the abuse is tied to political repression of the opposition. Kari Barber has more from our West Africa bureau in Dakar.

Amnesty's Democratic Republic of Congo researcher Andrew Philip says many had hoped presidential elections last year would usher in an area of peaceful democracy. But he says violence by security forces against civilians - often those believed to have ties to opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba - has gotten worse.

"Running through that is the fear that the security forces are not working genuinely at the service of the Congolese, but they are still at the service of individual political figures and doing their bidding," he said.

Joseph Kabila defeated Bemba, a rebel leader turned politician, in the presidential elections.

Researcher Philip says there were many reports of civilians being raped, tortured and killed by security forces during that period. There were also abuses reported following political fighting in March that left hundreds of civilians dead. He says it was often because they came from the same ethnic group as Bemba.

Philip says opposition forces should also be investigated on accusations of human rights abuses against civilians.

Thousands of U.N. peacekeepers are in Congo helping to implement a program to reform the unruly security forces.

Philip says although the program is headed by the Congolese government, international organizations should bear some responsibility in how it is managed.

"Since the international community in all of its different aspects is supporting the reform program, it is not necessarily that they are not doing enough, but I think they should be doing more to ensure that their contribution to the reform program also translates into justice for the victims of these abuses," he said.

He says international bodies should push for investigations and trials.

Human rights investigator with Kinshasa-based Voice for the Voiceless Rostin Manketa says the situation in the city is tense even though opposition leader Bemba has left the country.

"All of those accused of supporting Jean Pierre-Bemba for the time being are not very safe," said Manketa. "They are not safe. They are still afraid."

Government officials contacted for this report were unavailable for response.

United States President George Bush announced Wednesday the extension of sanctions against the Democratic Republic of Congo because of widespread violence and instability. The announcement was made just days before a scheduled meeting between Mr. Bush and President Kabila.