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Clinton Says DRC 'Worst Example of Man's Inhumanity to Women'

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday called the conflicts in the eastern Democratic of Congo the world's worst example of violence towards women. She accused the beneficiaries of the area's mineral trade of maintaining the region's instability for their own gain.

Speaking at a public forum in Nairobi, Kenya, Secretary Clinton previewed her upcoming stop in the eastern DRC city of Goma by saying she will use the occasion to denounce violence against women in the conflict area.

"I'll be in Goma. And I will be there primarily to speak out against the unspeakable violence against women and girls in eastern Congo. It is the worst example of man's inhumanity to women," she said.

Eastern Congo has long been a center of instability and conflict in the region. The Congolese army, backed by a United Nations peacekeeping force, is currently fighting the ethnic Hutu rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR. Farther north, the Congolese army is also pitted against a Ugandan rebel force positioned in DRC territory.

But human rights groups have accused all sides of the conflict of staging more war against the area civilians than against each other. Reports have indicated widespread atrocities against the local population, including systematic rape and the burning of villages full of women and children.

Both the Congolese army and the FDLR are alleged to be cooperating with each other in exploiting the area's abundant mines.

The area is especially rich in coltan and tin ore. Coltan is used in the production of electronic products such as cell phones, video games, and computers.

"Yes, there are tribal and other reasons why the conflicts are going on. But get below the surface. It's because there are mines in eastern Congo that produce the minerals that go into our cell phones and our other electronics. There is a lot of money being made by a lot of people, but it sure isn't helping the people of the DRC," said Clinton.

Secretary Clinton remarked that the U.S.'s long term policy goal in the DRC was to help build up the country's infrastructure and institutions so as to make it more governable. There are only several hundred kilometers of paved roads in the entire country.

But Secretary Clinton said the short term U.S. agenda in the DRC is ending the crisis in its eastern region that is ravaging the area's population and reducing its rich natural resources.

The secretary foreshadowed the U.S. strategy towards ending the conflict, saying that economic considerations of the militias and bordering nations benefitting from the minerals trade must be put at the center of negotiations. Advocacy groups have accused international mediators of focusing too much on superficial political factors and not enough on the lucrative trades that ultimately fuel the instability.

"We are looking for ways to try to create conditions where the corporations and the countries who are exploiting the mineral wealth understand it is in their interest to try and help diminish the conflict," she said.

Secretary of State Clinton added that another key component to U.S. policy in the area is helping to build a better disciplined Congolese army supported by a more effective U.N. peacekeeping mission.

Recent reports out of the eastern DRC have indicated that civilian males are increasingly being targeted for sexual assault as well.

Secretary Clinton will be in South Africa on Friday as the next leg of her Africa tour.