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UN claims possible genocide in DRCongo

The United Nations said acts of genocide may have been committed in the DR Congo as it published a hotly-contested report Friday detailing massacres by foreign armies and rebels in the war-torn nation.

Rwanda, whose troops were at the centre of the most serious accusations, said it categorically rejected the report after it failed to have it suppressed while Burundi said it was designed to destabilise the region.

Uganda and Angola also denied allegations against their armies.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government said it was “appalled” by the details in the report covering 1993 to 2003 and demanded justice for the victims.

“While it neither aims to establish individual responsibility, nor lay blame, the report — in full candour — reproduces the often shocking accounts by victims and witnesses of the tragedies they experienced,” Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said in the preface to the report.

“The report is intended as a first step towards the sometimes painful nonetheless essential process of truth-telling after violent conflict,” she added.

The report, reworded in parts after a leak, said the “apparent systematic and widespread attacks… reveal a number of inculpatory elements that, if proven before a competent court, could be characterised as crimes of genocide”, pointing in particular to attacks by Rwandan troops during 1996-1997.

“It was not a question o

f people killed unintentionally in the course of combat, but people targeted primarily by AFDL (Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo)/APR (Rwandan Army)/FAB (Burundi army) and executed in their hundreds,” it added.

The Rwandan government reacted furiously, saying it “categorically rejected” the report.

“The desire to validate the double genocide theory is consistently present throughout… by mirror­imaging’ the actors, ideology, and methods employed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide,” said Kigali in a statement.

The accusations of genocide are particularly contested by Kigali as its government has based much of its legitimacy on being the force that stopped the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who had earlier dismissed the report’s claims as “absurd”, was at the vanguard of the Rwandan force which drove the Hutu militias behind the 1994 genocide in his homeland across the border into eastern DR Congo.

In Geneva, Ugandan diplomat Justinian Kateera also denied the allegations and said the report was flawed.

“We absolutely deny the allegations against the Uganda people’s defence force,” he said.

Angola said in a statement it rejected as “slanderous, insulting and provocative the allegations linking the deployment of FAA units in DRC in exchange for supposed economic incentives”.

It added that it was “particularly outraged… these allegations … are aimed precisely at the one country that has made the most efforts to stop the wave of gun violence whose main target was the Congolese civilian population.”

The government of Burundi, whose troops were also accused of abuses, charged that the report was aimed at “destabilising the entire region”.

The report’s language was, however, less assertive than in an earlier leaked draft compiled by a team of investigators since 2008.

Words like “allegedly” or “apparently” have been inserted into the final version of descriptions of violations, as well as references to the involvement of the Ugandan, Rwandan and Burundi armies during the 1996-1998 first Congo war.

The report also included several more paragraphs explaining the difficulties of proving genocide in court.

As a result, it said, a full judicial inquiry was necessary to “shed light on” serious crimes committed during the 1996-1997 period.

“Only such an investigation and judicial determination would be in a position to resolve whether these incidents amount to the crime of genocide,” it added.

In a statement at the UN headquarters in New York, the Congolese government’s ambassador called for justice.

“The victims deserve justice and they deserve that their voices are heard by my government and by the international community,” Ileka Atoki said in his statement which proposed possible mixed international-DR Congo courts to try the perpetrators.

Human Rights Watch’s Carina Tertsakian said she looked forward to a “serious response from the UN and its member states.”

“The UN Security Council should formally discuss the report and should insist that all the countries that are implicated in the report should help with efforts to bring justice,” she told AFP.

Amnesty International also called for action to ensure that justice was served.

“The cycle of violence and abuses will only stop if those responsible for crimes under international law are held to account,” said Salil Shetty, secretary general of the London-based organisation.

The report is based on data collected by UN investigators from July 2008 to June 2009 and documents violations between 1993 and 2003.