200 women, 4 baby boys gang-raped near Congo UN base

The raped babies aged one month, six months, a year and 18 months

Johannesburg: Rwandan and Congolese rebels gang-raped nearly 200 women and some baby boys over four days within miles of a UN peacekeepers' base in an eastern Congo mining district, an American aid worker and a Congolese doctor said.

Will F. Cragin of the International Medical Corps said Monday that aid and UN workers knew rebels had occupied Luvungi town and surrounding villages in eastern Congo the day after the attack began on July 30.

More than three weeks later, the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo has issued no statement about the atrocities and said Monday it still is investigating.

Cragin told The Associated Press by telephone that his organization was only able to get into the town, which he said is about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from a UN military camp, after rebels ended their brutal spree of raping and looting and withdrew of their own accord on Aug. 4.

At UN headquarters in New York, spokesman Martin Nesirky said Monday that a UN Joint Human Rights team verified allegations of the rape of at least 154 women by combatants from the Rwandan rebel FDLR group and Congolese Mai-Mai rebels in the village of Bunangiri. He said the victims are receiving medical and psycho-social care.

Nesirky said the UN peacekeeping mission has a military company operating base in Kibua, some 30 kilometres (about 19 miles) east of the village, but he said FDLR attackers blocked the road and prevented villagers from reaching the nearest communication point.

Civil society leader Charles Masudi Kisa said there were only about 25 peacekeepers and that they did what they could against some 200 to 400 rebels who occupied the town of about 2,200 people and five nearby villages.

"When the peacekeepers approached a village, the rebels would run into the forest, but then the Blue Helmets had to move on to another area, and the rebels would just return," Masudi said.

There was no fighting and no deaths, Cragin said, just "lots of pillaging and the systematic raping of women."

Four young boys also were raped, said Dr. Kasimbo Charles Kacha, the district medical chief. Masudi said they were babies aged one month, six months, a year and 18 months.

"Many women said they were raped in their homes in front of their children and husbands, and many said they were raped repeatedly by three to six men," Cragin said. Others were dragged into the nearby forest.

International and local health workers have treated 179 women but the number raped could be much higher as terrified civilians still are hiding, he said.

"We keep going back and identifying more and more cases," he said. "Many of the women are returning from the forest naked, with no clothes."

He said that by the time they got help it was too late to administer medication against AIDS and contraception to all but three of the survivors.

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