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UN report: Congo rape victims suffer reprisal attacks, still lack help
JOHANNESBURG (AP) ' Survivors of a horrific mass rape attack in eastern Congo last year have suffered reprisals and a judicial inquiry into the violence has been suspended, the United Nations said Wednesday.
At least 387 people were raped in the Walikale territory in late July and early August last year, including men, children and a month-old baby boy.
While investigators said that the rapes could constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, Wednesday's report also noted that only one person has been indicted on any criminal charges in connection with the violence.
More than 150 victims and witnesses have been interviewed, but the report by the U.N. Joint Human Rights Office in Congo on Wednesday said a judicial inquiry had to be suspended because of the reprisal attacks.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged the Congolese government to do more to stop the violence and called on the international community to better equip the U.N. mission in Congo.
"The government should pursue its efforts to bring perpetrators to justice and ensure that victims and witnesses are protected, given the high risk of reprisals," she said.
The U.N. mission in Congo came under scathing criticism following the Walikale attacks because the rapes occurred within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of a U.N. peacekeeping base. The $1 billion-a-year mission's primary mandate is to protect civilians.
It took days for help to arrive, even though a peacekeeping patrol escorted commercial trucks through one of the villages, Luvungi, while it was held by the fighters.
A U.N. report said the patrol noticed signs of looting but took no action because no one told them what was going on. The soldiers were not accompanied by an interpreter, and few peacekeepers speak the local languages
Last year, Congolese President Joseph Kabila called for the U.N. force to leave before September 2011 so the country could "fly with its own wings." But the council only authorized a withdrawal of 2,000 troops, leaving a 19,000-strong force that will now remain in Congo until June 30, 2012.
Congo's army and U.N. peacekeepers have been unable to defeat the rebels responsible for the long drawn-out conflict in eastern Congo, which is fueled by the area's massive mineral reserves.
Victims of the Walikale rapes told doctors they had been attacked by a mixed group of fighters.
Various groups of fighters have used rape as a weapon of war in eastern Congo to intimidate, punish and control the population in the mining areas.
The U.N. human rights office said last week that Congolese government troops also had raped at least 121 women over a three-day period last month in the village of Nyakiele in South Kivu province.