248 women report being raped in Congo

Some 248 women said they were raped by soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Sud-Kivu province last month, local medical reports showed Monday, in a region the UN has called the world's "rape capital."

A hospital doctor in Nakiele told AFP that 121 local women reported being the victim of rape on the night of June 11 to 12.

The previous night 55 women reported being violated in nearby Abala, a nurse said, while another health worker said 72 women in the village of Kanguli said they were also raped that night.

Nakiele village chief Losema Etamo Ngoma told AFP that the rapes and looting were committed by at least 150 armed men under the command of national army colonel Nyiragire Kulimushi, also known as "Kifaru".

The soldiers arrived in groups from 11:00 am (09H00 GMT) on June 11, he said, and were told by Kulimushi to find something to eat.

"At about 8:00 pm I heard women's cries everywhere. I asked to meet the colonel but an officer told me I couldn't so I returned home," he said.

"They left the village in the morning at about 5:00 am. I went around the houses and I met women in tears," he said.

The village chief said they told him: "The soldiers raped us."

A 28-year-old mother of two told AFP how two soldiers demanded she open her door before threatening to kill her and then raping her.

"After they left I began being sick," she said.

Kulimushi, who fled a military base south of Nakiele on June 8, is a former member of the Mai Mai tribal militia which integrated into the national army in 2009 following a peace agreement with Kinshasa.

The base at Kanada was created recently following a restructuring of operational forces in the west of the DR Congo, with regiments formed from different militia groups.

Kulimushi, who was until then in charge of a zone in the Fizi area, refused to see his officers excluded from the commanding ranks in the new set-up, according to a military source who did not want to be named.

Following the attacks government spokesman Lambert Mende said forces were actively looking for Kulimushi and that a special tribunal would be set up to look into the case.

The United Nations, rights groups and foreign governments have long complained about impunity for heinous crimes committed by soldiers in DR Congo.

Margot Wallstrom, the UN's special representative on combating sexual violence in conflict, has in the past called DR Congo the "rape capital" of the world.

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