In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the National Congress for the Defense of the Congolese People (CNDP) rebel group loyal to renegade general Laurent Nkunda is reportedly provoking fights against other militia groups and causing instability in the restive North Kivu province. President Joseph Kabila's government is accusing the rebel group of going on rampage and executing civilians whom they claim to be members of other militias in the area.
The government adds that actions of the CNDP rebels are undermining the cessation of hostilities agreement recently signed between the government and other rebel groups in North Kivu. But the rebels deny the accusation, blaming the government for the deaths of the civilians. Anneke Van-Woudenberg is the senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She tells reporter Peter Clottey that peace seems to be elusive to most of the residents in North Kivu province.
"What Human Rights Watch has published today is a report detailing a 10-day investigation mission that we conducted in eastern Congo, and specifically in the province of North Kivu. And what we found is that since the signing of the ceasefire, six months ago, that the rape and the killing of civilians continue. Now, one of those groups are indeed the soldiers of Laurent Nkunda, a renegade general who has been operating here in eastern Congo," Van-Woudenberg pointed out.
She said other military groups in the area are also involved in destabilizing that part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"His troops (Nkunda) are not the only ones. Human Rights Watch also documented serious killings by a coalition of three other armed groups. These are Congolese Hutu groups called the PARECO (Coalition of Congolese Patriotic Resistance) and the Mai Mai, but also the Rwandan Hutu groups who have been operating here in the forest of eastern Congo for the past 14 years. So what we found is an ongoing serious situation for the protection of civilians, and for most people there is no peace," she said.
Van-Woudenberg describes the abuse of human rights allegedly being committed by government forces also as unseemly.
"First of all these soldiers of the Congolese army are also involved in human rights abuses. They are looting from the local population, and raping women and girls, but perhaps as importantly, we have discovered that they also continue to support this coalition of armed groups including the Rwanda Hutu groups some of whom participated in the genocide in 1994. This is the group that the Congolese government have claimed they will seek to disarm, a group that is supposed to return to Rwanda. But in fact we have found that the Congolese government continues to support them and their allies, which means that we seriously question the government's commitment to this process," Van-Woudenberg noted.
She said Human Rights Watch has begun meetings with other armed groups and stakeholders to find a solution to the problems documented in the report.
"Human Rights Watch have been meeting for the past two days with leaders from all of the armed groups as well as from senior officers from the Congolese army, and other government officials to tell them what we have documented in our investigations, and urging them to act on this. And we very much hope that they will take this seriously," she said.
Van-Woudenberg said there was need for an international effort to implement the peace process.
"But of course one of the other things we have been urging is for the international facilitators to the peace process, which includes the United States, and the European Union, and we have said to them, let's make central to this peace process the protection of civilians. And we are urging appointment of a special advisor on human rights so that we can ensure that the protection of civilians and respect for human rights is at the center of this peace process, and not a forgotten issue that is never dealt with," Van-Woudenberg pointed out.