U.N. committee sanctions Congo militia chief

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 29, 2011 12:38 PM
U.N. committee sanctions Congo militia chief

By Patrick Worsnip

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.N. Security Council committee has imposed sanctions on a Congolese militia leader allegedly implicated in a highly publicized mass rape case last year, the committee said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, 35, is commander-in-chief of the political wing of the Mai Mai Sheka, one of several armed groups active in the lawless east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He reportedly is running for parliament in the country's current elections.

The Congo sanctions committee statement said the group had carried out attacks on mines in the mineral-rich region and had also committed "serious violations of international law involving the targeting of children," including rape.

In a joint statement, the U.N. missions of the United States, Britain and France called on the Kinshasa government to carry out an existing arrest warrant for Sheka.

The adding of Sheka to the committee's sanctions list means he is subject to a worldwide travel ban and asset freeze. Twenty-five other individuals and six firms and organizations already are on the list for activities related to Congo's history of factional warfare and illicit trade in metals.

More than 5 million people are thought to have died in a 1998-2003 civil war in the vast African country. While the war is officially considered over, militias still are active and violence continues, especially in the east.

The committee statement said Sheka had planned and ordered a series of attacks in the Walikale area in July and August 2010 to punish local people accused of collaborating with Congolese government forces.

"Children were raped and were abducted, subjected to forced labor and subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," it said, adding that the Mai Mai Sheka "forcibly recruits boys and holds children in their ranks from recruitment drives."

A U.N. report issued in July of this year said at least 387 civilians -- mainly women but also including men, girls and boys -- were raped a year earlier in 13 villages in Walikale. It said Mai Mai Sheka was one of three armed groups responsible and that Sheka himself was one of those in command.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a November 2 statement demanding Sheka's arrest, called it "one of the largest documented cases of mass rape in eastern Congo in recent years."

Last week, Congo's army said Sheka had turned himself in for his own protection following violent clashes with another rebel group. But media reports since then have said he is again at large and campaigning in the election.

"Sheka's campaigning for office despite a warrant for his arrest demonstrates the Congolese government's failure to act against those most responsible for sexual violence and other mass atrocities," HRW Africa researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg said in the November 2 statement.

(Editing by Bill Trott)