Congo rebel chief arrested over mass rape
By Jody Clarke
The leader of a Congolese rebel group suspected of being involved in the rape of more than 300 civilians two months ago has been arrested, according to the United Nations.
The suspect, an alleged leader of the militia group Mai Mai Cheka and identified only as Lieut Col Mayele, was captured in a joint operation between UN peacekeeping troops and the Congolese army in North Kivu Province, eastern DRC on Tuesday.
He has since been “transferred” to the Congolese military which “has opened a judicial inquiry against him”, a statement from the UN said.
Mayele is suspected of leading a coalition of at least 200 fighters from the Mai-Mai militia and the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda against 13 villages in the Walikale region of North Kivu province between July 30th and August 2nd this year.
Armed with AK47s and machetes, the group began looting and raping after initially telling villagers they had come to provide protection. At least 235 women, 52 girls, 13 men and three boys are believed to have been assaulted while at least 923 houses and 42 shops were looted. Some 116 people were also abducted in order to carry out forced labour.
Another 214 unconfirmed cases of rape are under investigation in other areas of eastern DRC, according to the UN.
The UN’s peacekeeping force in the country, MONUSCO, was criticised for failing to prevent the attacks, which took place 20 miles (30km) from a UN base.
The arrest comes as the UN’s special representative on sexual violence, Margot Wallstrom, arrived in Congo to visit some of the victims of the attack.
Welcoming the arrest as “a victory for justice”, she said that his arrest would be “a signal to all perpetrators of sexual violence that impunity for these types of crimes is not accepted and that justice will prevail”.
Giorgio Trombatore, country director for the International Medical Corps in the DRC, which visited the villages shortly after the attacks, also welcomed his capture.
“We have been hoping for prosecutions in the region for a long time. This can only help in bringing an end to the culture of impunity that has existed for so long here.” The DRC has long had a reputation for sexual violence, which is often used to intimidate local populations.
Last year, at least 8,300 rapes were reported in the country, according to the UN.
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