Page last updated at 22:59 GMT, Monday, 1 March 2010

Human rights groups accuse DR Congo officer of abuse

UN troops in DR Congo (file image)
Human rights groups fear Congolese civilians cannot be protected

Human rights groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo have lodged a formal complaint with the government against a senior army officer.

The groups accuse troops under the command of Colonel Innocent Zimurinda of mass killing and rape of civilians.

The call for his suspension comes as a UN-backed Congolese offensive against rebels is due to begin.

Last year a similar operation caused great controversy as the UN was accused of condoning human rights abuses.

The 50 human rights groups and civil society organisations, including Human Rights Watch, have written to the commander of the government forces in the North Kivu region.

The organisations said Colonel Zimurinda had been in charge of a group of rebels who killed at least 150 civilians in Kiwanja in late 2008.

It has not been possible to get a response from the colonel to the allegations.

UN accused

Colonel Zimurinda later joined the government army when rebels were integrated into their ranks.

According to the human rights groups and a UN investigation, he was responsible for another massacre in Shalio last April where more than 120 Rwandan Hutu refugees were killed.

This was at the time of a controversial military operation which was backed by the UN peacekeeping force, Monuc.

The aim was to flush out the rebels linked to the Hutu militia that carried out the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

But the UN found itself accused of helping soldiers responsible for appalling human rights abuses.

The UN said it would only continue to work with Congolese government forces if the Congolese government addressed the human rights abuses within their ranks.

Another UN backed operation is just about to begin and human rights groups fear civilians cannot be protected in the operation if Colonel Zimurinda is involved.

The BBC's Will Ross says that for its part the Congolese government has been slow to respond to reports of human rights abuse amongst its forces - even when it comes to people wanted by the International Criminal Court.

General Bosco Ntaganda who has worked closely with Colonel Zimurinda is wanted by the ICC for war crimes.

Giving a reason for not arresting him, a Congolese minister suggested that the pursuit of peace was more important than the need for justice.

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South Africa MercuryDRC military probes top officer - 4 hrs ago
Reuters UK DRC army commander may face trial for abuses - 19 hrs ago HRW accuses DRC army officer - 24 hrs ago
BusinessWeek Human Rights Groups Call for Suspension of Congo Army Officer - 28 hrs ago
IOL Congo officer accused of rights abuses - 33 hrs ago
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