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(London) - People’s Armed Forces of Congo combatants under the command of General Jérôme Kakwavu tortured 24 civilians and killed six of them last week, Human Rights Watch charged today. Operating in Ituri, a region in the northeastern corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the armed group has so far remained outside the peace process that has brought other rebel forces into a transitional government.

The People’s Armed Forces of Congo (Forces Armées du Peuple Congolais, or FAPC) arrested the civilians in the Ituri town of Kaliko on October 12, accusing them of having participated in the killing of two soldiers in the area days earlier. They brought them to a FAPC military camp in Ariwara and detained them in a makeshift underground prison. Soldiers then beat the detainees with large wooden sticks on their heads and backs. Two detainees were executed and four others died later of their injuries. Soldiers released the remaining 18 civilians on October 14 after receiving payment from a local chief. All 18 were hospitalized with their injuries.

“General Jérôme commands combatants who killed and tortured these people,” said Alison Des Forges, senior advisor to the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. “He must order an immediate end to these abuses and ensure that the abusers be delivered to judicial authorities for prosecution.”

In September the United Nations peacekeeping force in Congo, MONUC, deployed armed peacekeepers to Aru, the main town just south of Ariwara. On October 1 the U.N. Security Council strengthened the mandate of MONUC, directing the troops to protect civilians who are under immediate threat of grave injury.

“MONUC peacekeepers should assure protection to the injured persons and should prevent any reprisals against others in the vicinity of Kaliko,” said Des Forges.

Human Rights Watch has documented past cases of human rights abuses by Jérôme, who has given himself the rank of general, and his combatants.

Ugandan army officers have supported General Jérôme, intervening militarily on at least one occasion to ensure he stayed in power. According to a United Nations report, Jérôme’s FAPC continues to receive military supplies from Uganda despite an arms embargo on eastern DRC. General Jérôme was in Uganda at the time of the killings, and the senior officer in charge of the arrests reportedly joined him there a few days later.

The DRC transitional government has considered integrating General Jérôme and the FAPC into the national army. Jérôme has insisted that he and some of his men receive senior posts in the regular Congolese army.

“The DRC government should be investigating Jérôme and his men, not investing them with senior commands,” said Des Forges. “Naming abusers to high posts perpetuates impunity and opens the way to further abuse.”

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