KINSHASA, Congo – Militiamen grilled bodies on a spit and boiled two girls alive as their mother watched, U.N. peacekeepers charged Wednesday, adding cannibalism to a list of atrocities allegedly carried out by one of the tribal groups fighting in northeast Congo (search).
The report came as a key U.N. official said the ongoing violence in Congo, claiming thousands of lives every month, has made it the site of the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
The commander of U.N. forces in Congo, Gen. Patrick Cammaert (search), presented a report on abuses allegedly committed by the Patriotic Resistance Front of Ituri.
"Those responsible for atrocities will be brought to justice," Cammaert said.
Peacekeepers have also begun working to cut off weapons supplies to the group, which apparently entered the country from neighboring Uganda (search), he said.
Members of the group were suspected of killing nine U.N. peacekeepers in a Feb. 25 ambush. On March 1, gunmen fired on Pakistani peacekeepers and the peacekeepers fought back, killing up to 60 fighters, U.N. officials said at the time.
Congo became a battleground for six nations during a 1998-2002 war that killed some 50,000 people directly and another 3 million through strife-induced hunger and disease. But sporadic fighting continues between militiamen, rebels and government troops in the lawless northeast.
Jan Egeland, head of U.N Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said Wednesday that the fighting in Congo had overtaken Sudan's embattled Darfur region as the world's most serious humanitarian crisis.
"Measured in human lives lost, I think that Congo is the number one problem in the world today," Egeland told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland.
About 3 million Congolese are now in acute need of assistance and as many as 30,000 people are dying every month from conflict-related causes, Egeland said.
The United Nations says Sudan's Darfur region remains a major crisis, estimating that about 180,000 people have died there since October 2003 and a further 1.8 million have been displaced.
Egeland said as many as 10,000 people may be dying there every month as a result of violence, disease or malnutrition.
The Darfur conflict began in February 2003, when rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated government to win more political and economic rights for the region's African tribes.
The allegations of cannibalism in the U.N. report were from a summary of testimony from witnesses gathered over a year from hundreds of people who had been kidnapped by militias in the region. The report said that some victims were killed by torture and decapitation. Those not killed were held in labor camps and forced to work as fishermen, porters, domestic workers and sex slaves.
"Several witnesses reported cases of mutilation followed by death or decapitation," the report said.
The U.N. report included an account from Zainabo Alfani in which she said she was forced to watch rebels kill and eat two of her children in June 2003.
The report said, "In one corner, there was already cooked flesh from bodies and two bodies being grilled on a barbecue and, at the same time, they prepared her two little girls, putting them alive in two big pots filled with boiling water and oil."
Her youngest child was saved, apparently because at six months old it didn't have much flesh.
Alfani said she was gang-raped by the rebels and mutilated. She survived to tell her horror story, but died in the hospital on Sunday of AIDS contracted during her torture two years earlier, the U.N. report said.
The mother gave her account in February, but the U.N. waited to publish them until after her death for fear she would become a target for reprisal.
The new International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, said this week that its first cases will deal with war crimes committed in eastern Congo.