Armed men raped 33 women on New Year’s Day in a co-ordinated attack in eastern Congo, according to aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).
“Women had been restrained with ropes or beaten unconscious with the butt of a gun before being attacked, some in front of their children,” said Annemarie Loof, MSF head of mission in South Kivu province.
“Up to four armed men were involved at a time and homes and shops were looted,” she added.
The aid agency said it was extremely concerned about the situation in and around the eastern town of Fizi where the attacks happened.
Rape as a weapon of war is widespread in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where 15,000 rapes are reported each year according to the United Nations. In 2009 alone, MSF cared for 5,000 rape victims in eastern Congo.
Many women are afraid to seek treatment because they fear being stigmatised by their families or further harassed by armed groups, MSF said.
“Unfortunately it is a feature of the war in DRC but … this massive scale (of rape) in one day in a relatively small town is very shocking,” Katrien Coppens, MSF operations manager for DRC, told AlertNet by phone from Amsterdam.
MSF medical teams treated 14 women at a hospital in Fizi on Jan. 3 and 19 the next day. In addition, two people were transferred to Baraka Hospital, one with serious head injuries after being beaten with a rock, the other with a gunshot wound to the chest.
MSF’s Loof said people were fleeing the area, fearing further violence. The agency could not confirm who carried out the rapes.
Separately, Radio Okapi reported that civilians and the military had clashed in Fizi when two soldiers shot and seriously injured a young man after an argument. Locals then beat one of the soldiers to death.
The situation escalated when Congolese army (FARDC) soldiers retaliated by raiding the town where they beat up civilians and looted homes and shops, the U.N.-backed radio station's website reported (in French).
The radio station, which did not mention any mass rape, said the situation in Fizi remained tense.
The authorities have arrested seven people, ordered a police investigation and called for calm, the station reported.