U.N. investigators have confirmed in a new report that civilians, many of them members of the Pygmy community in northeastern Congo, have suffered horrific human rights abuses, including cannibalism, systematic rape, torture and kidnapping by rebel fighters.
After interviewing more than 300 victims and witnesses in the remote forests of Congo, U.N. investigators found that fighters from the Ugandan-backed Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) and other smaller factions tortured and killed an unknown number of people, including children.
The preliminary report says that atrocities committed late last year include forced-cannibalism in which relatives were coerced to eat members of their own executed family.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhardt discussed the findings, presented to the U.N. Commissioner of Human Rights and the Security Council.
"Investigators were told of systematic looting and rape as well as summary executions and abductions," he said. "The report also confirms that among the people executed, mutilated, and cannibalized were members of the Pygmy community forced to leave the forest."
The U.N. Mission in Kinshasa led the six-day inquiry in the Ituri Province, near the Ugandan border, where many Pygmies have gone into hiding from the rebels. U.N. investigators in Kinshasa refer to the rebel campaign as "Operation Clean Slate." A spokesperson in Kinshasa said the campaign was "presented almost like a vaccination campaign, envisioning the looting of each home and the rape of each woman."
The U.N. Security Council condemned what it calls massacres and said Jean-Pierre Bemba of the Congolese Liberation Movement, which controls the territory, is responsible.
The Security Council also reiterated its call for the implementation of the December Pretoria Agreement, in which the parties agreed to a ceasefire and to establish a provision government that would pave the way to elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On Tuesday, Mr. Bemba, who has been promised a role once the DRC's new power-sharing government has been established, announced arrests of at least five people, including members of his own rebel group, for the atrocities.
More that two million people have been killed, many from famine and disease, in Congo's four-year civil war. Recently, rebel fighting and a state of lawlessness has intensified in the eastern area of the war-torn region.