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UN Secretary-General 'Outraged' by Congo Rapes, Launches Investigation

The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addresses the United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations in New York, 19 Aug 2010 (file photo)

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday he is outraged by the rape and assault of more than 150 women by armed militants in eastern North Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mr. Ban is sending a top U.N. official to investigate the attacks.

Secretary-General Ban said the rapes of Congolese villagers were carried out by armed elements of two rebel groups and cited the attacks as another grave example of the level of sexual violence and the insecurity that plague the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky read Mr. Ban's statement: "The secretary-general reiterates his call on all armed groups in the DRC to lay down their weapons and join the peace process. The secretary-general further calls on the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to investigate this incident and bring to justice the perpetrators of these crimes and renew efforts to bring an end to insecurity in the eastern part of the country."

Mr. Ban is sending the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Atul Khare, to the DRC to investigate the attacks. The U.N.'s Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallstrom, has been put in charge of the U.N. response. She said the attacks in North Kivu confirm her findings during a recent visit to the DRC of widespread and systematic rape, and other human rights violations in the country.

According to news reports, the rebel attacks took place between July 30 and August 3. The United Nations said it has a small peacekeeping base about 30 kilometers from the village. But according to spokesman Martin Nesirky, rebels blocked access of villagers to a nearby road and they could not report the attacks to outsiders. Nesirky said the peacekeepers learned of the rapes from a medical worker on August 12, two weeks after they began.

"It's a matter for the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to investigate urgently and to bring those responsible to justice," said Nesirky. "That's clearly a hugely important factor. I think it's a sign of the gravity of the situation that Assistant Secretary-General Khare will be going immediately to the Democratic Republic of the Congo."

The United Nations is providing medical help to the victims of the attacks.