DR Congo rebel leader arrested over mass rapes

By Guyson Nanagayi – Kinshasa – Lt Col Mayele of the Mai Mai Cheka rebel group in DR Congo has been arrested by DRC  army  and UN peacekeepers over suspects that he led  attacks involving the mass rape of hundreds of civilians.UN officials said.

The leader was arrested after  UN and DR Congo forces carried   a joint operation in North Kivu province.

A UN spokesman said Lt Col Mayele, who was arrested in the province’s Walikale region, was in custody at a Congolese military court in the provincial capital, Goma.

A deputy in the Mai Mai militia, he was handed over by the group’s leader, named as Cheka.

According to  BBC’s Thomas Fessy in Kinshasa, It is unclear why Cheka turned against Lt Col Mayele

The arrest was carried out while the UN’s representative on sexual violence, Margot Wallstrom, was in the country to visit some of the victims of the attack. She welcomed it as “a victory for justice”.

“Let his apprehension be a signal to all perpetrators of sexual violence that impunity for these types of crimes is not accepted and that justice will prevail,” she said.

However, a preliminary UN report into the attacks in July and August has found that at least 303 men, women and children were raped around Luvungi, in the Walikale region, some repeatedly, over a period of four days by around 200 armed rebels.

Another 214 unconfirmed cases of rape are under investigation in other areas of eastern DR Congo, according to the UN.

More than 1,000 homes and businesses were also looted and 166 people abducted for forced labour, says the report.

Victims interviewed said they believed the purpose of the attacks was to intimidate local people seen by the rebels as government supporters

The UN mission in DR Congo (Monusco) has admitted it did not do enough to prevent the attacks, which took place only a few miles from a peacekeeping base.

A doctor from the International Medical Corps who visited rape victims in their villages, Dr Cris Baguma, said the rebels had come in peace and only began raping after being given food by the villagers.

“Men saw how they raped their wives, sons saw how they raped their mothers. Everyone in these villages is now very withdrawn and cold and in need of psychological assistance,” he told Reuters news agency.

Ms Wallstrom said the UN mission needed greater resources, and warned that if such attacks continued it would “brutalise the whole society, from generation to generation, and destroy all the values, all the standards”.

DR Congo has a shocking reputation for sexual violence, and rape is commonly used as a weapon of war by a number of armed groups who continue to operate.

The UN says at least 8,300 rapes were reported in 2009 and it is believed that many more attacks go unreported.

Between 300 and 500 people are thought to have been raped during violence in eastern DR Congo in July and August.

Peacekeepers were criticised for failing to stop the attacks, some of which took place close to a UN base.