JANUARY 3, 2010: Alarm As Villagers Form 'Militia' Groups

Alarm As Villagers Form 'Militia' Groups
SOURCE: East African
By Kevin Kelley

Nairobi — United Nations human rights teams are warning of increased weapon trafficking in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo as armed villagers form units in response to killings, rapes and kidnappings carried out by the Lord's Resistance Army.

In a report released last week, the UN investigators say an estimated 1,800 villagers have joined these units.

Noting a consequent rise in illicit import of small arms and weapons, the report urges "particular emphasis be placed on preventing self-defence groups from transforming into militias."

The situation on the ground has given victims an impression of general neglect and indifference by the international community and DRC governmental authorities. This is what has fuelled the emergence of the self-defence groups, the UN Joint Human Rights Office says.

The report calls on the international community to reinforce the 19,000-strong UN military mission in eastern Congo, known as Monuc, "to enable it to more effectively fulfil its mandate to protect civilians, to support security reforms and to restore state authority in the DRC."

It specifically criticises a joint operation known as 'Lightning Thunder' that was launched a year ago by forces from the DRC, Uganda and Sudan, with technical support from the United States' Africa Command (Africom).

"The offensive never consulted with partners on the ground on the requirements of civilian protection," notes the UN.

"The 'Rudia' operations jointly carried out by Monuc and the armed forces of the DRC likewise "appear not to have been sufficiently prepared and coordinated."

It adds: "As a result, the LRA transformed into small mobile groups which harass the Congolese security forces and which are difficult for civilians to avoid."

Atrocities Committed

According to the UN, the Ugandan rebel force led by Joseph Kony was responsible for killing 1,200 civilians and abducting 1400 others, including nearly 600 children, in eastern Congo between September 2008 and June 2009.

About 228,000 Congolese were internally displaced while more than 16,000 fled to southern Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Kony and his followers "are clearly guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity," the report declares.

But a spokesman for the LRA, David Matsanga told the Associated Press last week that the charges in the UN report were false.

He accused the Uganda People's Defence Force, the Congolese army and troops from Southern Sudan of killing civilians mistakenly identified as LRA rebels.