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Congo president on military rapes: 'Unforgivable'

By Jeff Koinange
CNN

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Congolese President Joseph Kabila: "It's shameful that soldiers anywhere are allowed to do such things."

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Democratic Republic of Congo
Joseph Kabila
Sex Crimes

LUBUMBASHI, Democratic Republic of Congo (CNN) -- Confronted with atrocious accounts of rape committed by members of the Congo military, Congolese President Joseph Kabila at first was silent -- then found his voice, saying "It's shocking."

"These kinds of acts are simply unforgivable."

The father of a young girl, Kabila was commenting after watching an exclusive CNN report from last week in which women, children and a doctor described an array of sex crimes by the Congolese military -- some of whom used knives to rape their victims.

Kabila, a former military man, appeared shaken after the report. He watched it and watched it again, shifting uncomfortably in his seat each time he heard a victim's horrific story, shaking his head and narrowing his eyes. (Watch as a victim describes her life after the attack -- 5:37)

Locals say soldiers from one ethnic group are systematically raping and mutilating women from another group, with the intention, they say of destroying their child-bearing capabilities.

Kabila was quick to acknowledge that more than 300 former soldiers have been convicted and jailed for sexual crimes, but admitted that is not enough.

"We clearly need to do more for our citizens," he said.

"But just imagine for a moment a country as large as all of Western Europe with few roads and little infrastructure. It's a difficult terrain to police and Congo doesn't have an effective policing system. But after the election, all this will change. If elected, I will make this one of my first priorities."

Kabila is the transitional president, appointed to the job after the assassination of his father in January 2001. He hopes to be the first democratically elected leader since Congo gained independence in 1960.

A U.N. report earlier this month found that physical violence against civilians by members of the security forces is "reported wherever army and police are deployed."

The report went on to say that rapes and other sexual violence against women and girls are occurring throughout the country, with the "main perpetrators being army and police officers."

How can such crimes be happening with such impunity under his presidency?

"It's shameful that soldiers anywhere are allowed to do such things," he said. "That's why I want to be president. I want to change this. I want to make security one of my first priorities so that these and other acts come to an end once and for all."

Five years ago, Kabila was catapulted to power after his father, then-President Laurent Desire Kabila, was assassinated in an attempted coup. Joseph Kabila was then 29 years old and the army chief of staff, having spent half his life in the military.

He saw a peace deal signed more than three years ago attempt to halt a bloody war that began in 1998 and drew in no less than six other African countries in what Africa analysts dubbed the continent's First World War.

That conflict killed an estimated 3.9 million people, and despite the accord, fighting and lawlessness abounds.

Elections raise hopes in West

Now, at 34, Kabila is running for election at the end of July. The West hopes the first democratic elections in more than 40 years will bring an end to the nation's infighting. Kabila is considered the favorite among a field of 33 candidates.

"This election is extremely important for the Congolese people," he said. "It's been a long time coming, and we need this to get back into the fold of the community of nations."

Kabila spoke to CNN in the town of Lubumbashi in the country's south, a province as large as Texas and mineral-rich in everything from copper to cobalt to uranium.

He appeared relaxed and at ease at first, dressed in a pin-striped suit, sky-blue shirt and striped tie. But that changed when he was shown the report on victims of sexual violence in Bukavu.

"I've spent most of my life in the military," he said. "This isn't the way soldiers are supposed to behave. If elected, I will do everything I can to rectify this problem and help make our people feel safe again."

In its 2006 report on human rights in the Congo, Amnesty International said that "slow progress was (being) made in building security, justice and respect for human rights after nearly a decade of war."

However, the group also noted that "Despite systematic violations of human rights, hardly any suspected perpetrators were brought to justice."

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