Congolese Groups Demand Ouster of Abusive Army Commander

Fifty Congolese human rights and civil society organizations, along with Human Rights Watch (HRW), lodged a formal complaint today against Colonel Innocent Zimurinda, a senior army officer based in North Kivu province, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. HRW issued a media advisory on the complaint just hours ago.

The four-page formal complaint describes a compendium of horrific abuses - including massacres of civilians, summary executions, rape, mutilations of women, the dumping of bodies into latrines, and the recruitment of children - all committed by troops under Zimurinda's command from 2007 to the present. The groups requested the immediate suspension of Zimurinda and his removal from North Kivu pending the outcome of judicial investigations. Whether this will happen is anyone's guess.

The complaint was addressed to General Amuli Bahigwa, the officer in command of Congolese army operations in eastern Congo. The Congolese groups said that abuses were continuing under Zimurinda's command, according to HRW.

In October 2009, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions named Zimurinda as the officer responsible for the Congolese army's massacre of Rwandan Hutu refugees at Shalio Hill and the surrounding area in North Kivu in April 2009.

At Shalio Hill, Congolese army soldiers killed at least 50 refugees as they tried to flee. After the attack, one group of soldiers took 50 refugees from Shalio to Biriko, where the soldiers beat them to death with wooden clubs and shot three refugees who tried to escape. Only one person survived. A second group of soldiers took 40 refugees, all women and girls, from Shalio to a nearby Congolese army position where they were kept as sexual slaves, gang-raped and mutilated by the soldiers. Ten of the women managed to escape, but the fate of the others is unknown.

In 2009, Zimurinda participated in UN-backed Congolese military operations in eastern Congo, known as Kimia II. Without action to remove him, he is likely to play a role in new UN-backed Congolese military operations, known as Amani Leo, announced in January 2010.

Several weeks ago informants reported that Zimurinda was listed as part of the new command structure for Bosco Ntanganda's Patriotic Front. The government of DRC has placed Bosco Ntaganda, a war criminal wanted by the Hague, in charge of troops in eastern Congo

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Meanwhile, there is no indication that General Gadi Ngabo will abandon his campaign to pick up the mantle of former Congolese renegade army general Laurent Nkunda. Nkunda was ousted from his leadership position in the CNDP during a coup orchestrated by Bosco Ntaganda in January 2010--a coup accomplished with significant support from former enemies President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Kabila. Gadi was based in Kampala, Uganda, is Ntaganda's cousin, and has reportedly joined forces with Emmanuel Msengiyumva who deserted from the Congolese army (FARDC) in anticipation of new fighting. At issue is anger at Kabila, who has not delivered on anything, including paying his army.

Sources tell us today that there was a plan to reconcile the Ntaganda and pro-Nkunda militias, but Ntaganda has delayed the process because he is afraid that the pro-Nkunda forces will gain more power.

Also, the self-named rebel Mai-Mai leader General Sikuli Lafontaine surrendered to MONUC forces yesterday along with "12 bodyguards, 9 AK-47s, 1 rocket launcher, 1 heavy machine gun, 10 empty magazines and 287 rounds of ammunition," sources say. He is scheduled to be turned over to FARDC.

This represents a tiny fraction of the arms and munitions either hidden in the forests and hills, or being continually supplied by outside mercenary forces.