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Amnesty International Highlights Eastern Congo Human Rights Abuses

A new Amnesty International report highlights the ongoing problem of child soldier recruitment in North Kivu province of eastern Congo. It also describes the physical and sexual abuse of women and children. For VOA, Tom Rivers reports from London.

Despite a cease-fire on paper, the conflict in North Kivu rages on and as Amnesty International reports, children and women are often the victims of abuse under such conditions.

Report author Andrew Philip says he estimates there are up to a million people displaced in the troubled province.

"We have daily reports of rapes, killings of civilians and continued abductions of children for use as child soldiers," said Andrew Philip. "This continuing conflict comes despite the fact that there is a peace process in eastern DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] which has never really got off the ground."

Since the official end to the conflict in the greater Congo in 2003, Philip says great strides have been made to demobilize up to 30,000 child soldiers from the various armed groups but he points out that is not the case in North Kivu.

"Children who in a period of stability of one to two to three years ago were reunified with their families now find themselves again in the middle of a war zone and the armed groups who value their expertise, the experience of these children as former child soldiers, the armed groups seem to be particularly targeting those children for re-recruitment," he said.

Amnesty International estimates that as many as half of the former child soldiers in North Kivu have now been re-recruited by armed groups there.

Andrew Philip says in addition to this, other abuses are widely reported in the province.

"Several hundred rapes are reported every month, committed by either the armed groups, the government army or in many cases also civilians," said Philip.

Philip says if a credible peace process can be established in the region, then human rights must be at the core of any negotiations. And he says, the immediate release of child soldiers from within the armed groups and a rudimentary judicial system that can hear cases of physical and sexual abuse must be established.

"I think possibly we also need much more focus in U.N. peacekeeping operations on the plight of women and children in eastern DRC so that peacekeeping operations take more account of their vulnerability to attack by armed groups," he said.

And as Amnesty International points out, general security for civilians provided by the government in the province needs to improve dramatically if life is to change there.