Army officer arrested for corpse desecration

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Congolese government army FARDC soldiers walk towards the frontline where they are fighting against M23 rebels outside the eastern Congolese city of Goma

A lieutenant in the Democratic Republic of Congo army has been detained for desecrating the corpses of rebel fighters, officials have said.

His arrest last week in eastern DR Congo came a day after the UN Secretary General said he was “deeply concerned” about allegations of such mistreatment.

The army and M23 rebels began fighting near the key city of Goma on Sunday 14 July, although by the end of last week the army said they had pushed the rebels into retreat.

The M23 rebels, who are mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group, deserted from the Congolese army in April 2012.

DR Congo’s Information Minister Lambert Mende confirmed that there had been an arrest and named the officer as Lieutenant Solomo Bangala, a frontline soldier of the 391st Battalion.

“He was transferred into the hands of military judicial officials for the desecration of enemy corpses,” confirmed Mende, speaking to the BBC.

Human rights groups have catalogued abuses by all sides, including the army, during two decades of conflict in eastern DR Congo.

In April, 12 senior officers were suspended over the mass rape of civilians, also following pressure from the UN. However, arrests for such abuses are overall very rare.

The UN has more than 20,000 soldiers on the ground in DR Congo and the new 3,000-strong intervention brigade has a mission to neutralise and disarm eastern DR Congo’s many armed groups.

In an official statement released on 17 July, a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about reports of alleged mistreatment of M23 (23 March Movement) detainees and desecration of corpses of M23 combatants by the Congolese armed forces.

“The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has raised this matter at the highest level with the FARDC (Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo) and welcomes steps by the Congolese army to investigate these claims and to hold the perpetrators of these acts accountable. […]

“The Secretary-General calls on the Democratic Republic of the Congo to bring the perpetrators of these reported acts to justice and underlines that mistreatment of detainees is a violation of human rights and international humanitarian law.”