KINSHASA, Congo — The U.N. Security Council said Tuesday that it had asked the Congolese government to investigate and arrest five high-ranking army officers known to have committed atrocities.
The officers joined the Congolese army after leaving their rebel groups as part of a peace deal.
The U.N. offered no specifics on the accusations against the five men, but human rights groups have said that members of the army have raped, robbed and killed civilians in recent months.
Improving the dismal performance of the army is a key step in the process of eventually reducing the size and cost of the world’s largest U.N. peacekeeping mission.
“We even provided the government with the names of people whom we wished to see judged and arrested,” said Jean-Maurice Ripert, France’s ambassador to the U.N. “We got a commitment from the government that encourages us.”
Ripert would not name the men but said the Security Council had asked Congolese authorities to work on improving the army, police and judiciary.
Currently the underpaid and ill-disciplined army has a dismal reputation for raping and murdering the civilians it is meant to protect.
Human Rights Watch, an independent international rights group, said Tuesday that soldiers were responsible for 143 rapes in the north Kivu province since January, over half the 250 rapes it had documented. It said the army had also killed at least 19 civilians in the same period.
“Some women were taken as sex slaves by soldiers and held within military positions,” it said.
Alan Doss, the U.N.’s top official in the Congo, said the army would have to improve if plans to increase the current U.N. peacekeeping force by 3,000 troops and then try to start reducing it by 2010 were to go ahead.
Congo’s Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito told the Security Council he would like the U.N. to concentrate more forces in dangerous areas of the country, but acknowledged the government should be doing more to bring stability to Congo.
“The suffering of our people remains. Peace is yet to be fulfilled. Our duty is to do more, to do better and perhaps to do differently,” Muzito said.
Congo has been wracked by conflict since genocidal forces from Rwanda fled into its forested mountains 15 years ago. At its height, the conflict in eastern Congo drew in half a dozen of the country’s neighbors, each greedy for a share of the region’s rich mineral resources. A peace deal in 2003 reduced the fighting, but both the army and rebel groups still lurking in the forests continue to attack villages and mutilate and kill civilians.
“The Security Council cannot turn a blind eye when known human rights abusers are in senior positions in military operations they support,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, a senior researcher in the Africa division at Human Rights Watch.