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UN Renews Appeal for Food Aid for Congo Rape Victims - 2003-11-04

The World Food Program says it urgently needs money to provide food for thousands of rape victims in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The World Food Program says it is renewing its appeal, which was launched earlier this year, because it has not received enough to feed nearly 500,000 victims of the civil war in Eastern Congo. WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume says thousands of rape victims are in particular need of help.

She said the peace accords between the government and rebel groups have allowed aid agencies to gain access to areas, which for years had been off limits. She said agencies only now are beginning to discover the extent of the violence committed against women and children.

Ms. Berthiaume said children as young as five and women as old as 80 have been raped, some repeatedly, by both government and rebel forces. "What we are realizing now is the incredible number, important number of women that have been raped. Some people - the most cynical - would say, 'Look, this is not a big deal. Normally in a war situation, they are raped.' I do not think this is normal. It is a gross violation of human rights. But on top of that, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it looks like a systematic phenomenon of a huge intensity," she said.

For example, Ms. Berthiaume noted that doctors in the city of Bukavu used to register about 50 rape victims a year. Now they are registering 150 new cases a month, and these figures are continuing to climb. "Most of these women are rejected by their husbands. They will not marry. Many will never be able to have children. Some of them are in such a bad shape, they suffer so much from malnutrition that they are too weak to be operated [on]. Some of them had to go through many, not just one, but many operations to get in a better condition to be able to go to work in the fields," she said.

Ms. Berthiaume said these women, who have to pay for their operations, are very poor, and the least WFP can do to help them is to provide them with food.