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Peacekeepers struggle to explain mass rapes 19 miles from Congo base

The United Nations Security Council yesterday spoke out against the mass rape of nearly 200 women by rebels in eastern Congo while the organisation's top officials struggled to explain how its peacekeepers failed to prevent the attacks. The United Nation’s Democratic Republic of Congo peacekeeping operation appeared powerless to prevent the three-day rebel rampage through a string of rural villages.Officials in Congo said they only heard about the rapes from an international medical charity 10 days after they happened. But some say the news was passed on a lot sooner.

Between 30 July and 3 August, Rwandan and Congolese rebels attacked the village of Luvungi in North Kivu, separated men from wives and babies from mothers before raping between 150 and 200 women.  The United Nations peacekeeping mission’s camp is just 19 miles away from where it happened. At an emergency session in New York yesterday the Security Council called for those behind the attacks to be brought to justice. Evidence has just surfaced that on 30 July, the day the rapes started, the UN's safety and security divisions sent out an email to aid groups working in Congo, warning them to keep away from Luvungi because it had been overrun by rebels.

United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon has said he is "outraged" by the attacks. He has sent his top peacekeeping official, Atul Khare, to Congo to meet the victims and UN commanders. "This is another grave example of both the level of sexual violence and the insecurity that continue to plague the DRC," said Mr Ban.

The UN has said it could not have done anything to prevent the rapes because it didn’t know about them. Officials said that even when patrols went through the towns days after, none of the villagers told anyone about what had happened, either out of shame or because of they feared revenge attacks by the rebels. The charity, the International Medical Corps was first to raise the alarm. "Two hundred to four hundred armed men systematically pillaged and raped women in the villages," said the IMC’s Giorgio Trombatore. The United Nations has said that it found out about the attacks from the IMC on 12 August.  But the IMC have said details of what happened were passed on to the UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs on 6 August. "Unfortunately, the villagers and the local authorities never brought this issue to our knowledge," said United Nations spokesperson, Madnoje Mounoubai. "If we are not informed, it will be difficult for us to know."

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