KINSHASA, 6 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - In what the UN says sets an important legal precedent for the Democratic Republic of Congo, a court-martial hearing began this week in the northwestern province of Equateur for 12 soldiers accused of raping 119 women.
"Rape is for the first time being charged as a crime against humanity," said Kemal Saiki, the head of public information for the UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC.
The military trial, which opened on Tuesday in the provincial capital of Mbandaka, follows an investigation led by MONUC's human rights section in April 2004 for crimes alleged to have taken place in December 2003 300 km northwest of Mbandaka, near the town of Bongandanga.
The battalion at the nearby army base of Nsongo-Mboyo had gone on the rampage, accusing their commanders of misappropriating their wages.
Saiki said on Wednesday that the battalion had then looted almost every house in the Nsongo-Mboyo and Bongandanga.
Many of those raped were girls aged under 18 years, he added. The accused soldiers are said to be former combatants in the rebel faction Mouvement pour la Libération du Congo.
The next hearing is set for 18 October.