Congo Villagers Slay 200 'Witches'

President Bush with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, 09/26/2006
More than 200 suspected witches, blamed for diseases endemic to the region, were hacked to death in villages in northeastern Congo in killings that began June 15, a senior army official said Thursday.

"Villagers were saying that some people had bewitched others, and they started lynching them. By the time we discovered this, 60 people had already been killed by early last week. About 200 people lost their lives," Brig. Henry Tumukunde said.

Ugandan troops were sent to Aru district to stop the killings and arrest suspected killers, he said. The troops had been in northeastern Congo since 1998 in support of a rebellion against the Congolese government, but had been evacuated earlier in the year.

The killings began in Aru, 50 miles south of Sudan on the Ugandan border, but they spread deep inside northeastern Congo.

Tumukunde refused to say how many people had been injured or arrested in connection with the killings.

He said diseases endemic to the region were being blamed on witchcraft but noted that drugs to treat the diseases have not been available since the war broke out three years ago.

In a report released jointly Thursday by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, experts said after a recent 12-day visit to Congo, "every facet of society — whether human rights or economy, education or water and sanitation, housing or social care — has collapsed."

The 10-person mission blamed "decades of state and external looting of national resources" and war for pushing "Congolese households over the brink."

Human Rights Watch found in its annual report that by mid-2000 " upward of 1.3 million Congolese were displaced, and another five million completely or partially separated from their traditional supply routes."

Uganda and Rwanda joined forces in August 1998 in support of a rebellion seeking to oust former President Laurent Kabila, whom they had backed in a previous, successful revolt that overthrew longtime President Mobutu Sese Seko of what was then Zaire in May 1997.

Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia have poured in thousands of troops and material in support of the Congolese government.

"The war forced people to move to other areas, and the internally displaced were the targets of local villagers, who accused them of witchcraft," Tumukunde said.

The senior Kabila's assassination in January and his son's ascension to the presidency appear to have cleared the hurdles blocking the implementation of a 1999 peace agreement signed by the Congolese government, the rebels and Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia, who are all involved in the conflict.

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