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Clinton sees evil in sex crimes in eastern Congo

CONGO CLINTON

Clinton sees evil in sex crimes in eastern Congo

GOMA, Congo – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday was visibly moved by firsthand evidence of the brutality of war in eastern Congo, delivering an impassioned appeal for action to end to rampant sexual violence that she called “evil in its basest form.”

Clinton announced a new package of $17 million in American aid to respond to an epidemic of rape and other sexual crimes directed mainly at women and girls by government troops and rebel groups fighting in the region.

Her offer came after a harrowing meeting with victims of violent gang rapes in a crowded refugee camp on the outskirts of Goma where 18,000 men, women and children have sought shelter from revenge attacks raging in the countryside.

“It is almost impossible to describe the level of suffering and despair,” a shaken Clinton said afterward.

Under the shadow of an active volcano, Clinton toured the Magunga Camp, a dust-choked warren of tents and tin-lined huts, listening as officials and residents of the camp described the horrors of gang rapes and a litany of deaths from malnutrition, malaria, tuberculosis and diarrhea.

Picking her way through a path littered with volcanic rock, Clinton said she “wanted to see for myself what was happening here.”

“We really want to return home, that’s why we are asking America to help stop the fighting,” said Chantale Mapendo, a refugee who lives in the camp told Clinton

“That’s why I’m here,” Clinton replied. “I want you to be able to go home.”

Clinton appeared moved when she was shown a 4-year-old child, held in his mother’s arms, who was suffering from extreme malnutrition. Belly distended, eyes hollow, the skeletal boy weighed less than 15 pounds.

Residents told Clinton that women and young girls and boys are often victimized by rape when they leave the camp to gather wood or tend to outside gardens. One camp official said a young boy had been raped on Monday.

“I’ve been in a lot of very difficult and terrible settings over a lot of years and I was just overwhelmed by what I saw both in the camp and in the conversation” with the rape victims, Clinton told reporters aboard her plane after leaving Goma.

One of the two victims Clinton met had been gang-raped after her husband and four children were killed. The other, eight months pregnant at the time, lost her baby and was found by hospital workers in a forest where she had stumbled.

“The atrocities that these women have suffered, and that stand for the atrocities that so many have suffered, distill evil into its basest form,” Clinton said, her voice breaking with emotion. “In the face of such evil, people of good will everywhere must respond.”

“We say to the world that those who attack civilian populations with systematic rape are guilty of crimes against humanity,” she said.

At least $10 million of the $17 million pledged by Clinton will be used to train doctors to treat victims of brutal sexual attacks. Some of the funds will also be aimed at preventing abuse.

The United Nations has recorded at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence against women and girls in the region since conflict in eastern Congo erupted in 1996. Although fighting has eased since a 2003 peace deal, the army in January launched an offensive to pacify the area.

The operation is backed by the United Nations, which has a peacekeeping force in the country, but it has drawn criticism from rights groups as it has displaced some 800,000 people, left hundreds of civilians dead and led to a surge in rapes.

Clinton said the United States supports efforts to pacify the region, but she stressed that more had to be done to protect the civilian population.

She said she had offered U.S. assistance to help professionalize the Congolese military, members of which are accused of committing many sexual assaults in the countryside. The army is accused of failing to bring offenders in its ranks to justice.

Earlier this month, a leading human rights group demanded that Congo crack down on sexual violence often perpetrated by military generals and other top officers. It cited U.N. data showing that 7,703 cases of sexual violence by soldiers were reported last year.

Clinton delivered a strong message on that point to Congolese President Joseph Kabila when they met earlier Tuesday in a tent at the former Belgian colonial governor’s compound on the shores of Lake Kivu in Goma.

“We believe there should be no impunity for the sexual and gender-based violence committed by so many — that there must be arrests and prosecutions and punishment,” she told reporters after the meeting.

She also said the U.S. had offered to send a team of legal, financial and other experts to come up with specific recommendations for overcoming Congo’s problems with corruption. She said Kabila had accepted that offer.

Clinton is the first secretary of state to visit Congo in a decade and the first ever to visit Goma. She flew to Goma from Kinshasa aboard a U.N. plane over the objections of some top aides who worried about her security and logistics for the visit.

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Clinton:”My husband is not secretary of state, I am”

2United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses a press conference in Luanda, August 9, 2009.

Clinton:”My husband is not secretary of state, I am”

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Usually calm in public, top U.S. diplomat Hillary Clinton snapped at a Congolese student on Monday when asked about her husband’s views on a foreign policy issue, saying: “My husband is not secretary of state, I am.”

“You want me to tell you what my husband thinks?,” she replied angrily when a university student in Kinshasa asked what former President Bill Clinton thought about a deal between China and Democratic Republic of Congo.

“If you want my opinion, I will tell you my opinion, I am not going to be channeling my husband,” she added, without commenting further on the infrastructure-to-minerals deal that has raised some IMF concerns.

The former U.S. president stole the diplomatic spotlight from his wife last week. On the day she set off on an 11-day trip to Africa, Bill Clinton was on a secret mission to North Korea to secure the release of two U.S. journalists.

Clinton said afterward she was relieved the mission had been successful but made clear the former president’s Pyongyang mission was purely humanitarian and not linked to the work she is doing to revive stalled nuclear talks.

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Clinton seeks to bolster Somalia’s weak government

3U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses a news conference in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, August 5, 2009.

Clinton seeks to bolster Somalia’s weak government

NAIROBI (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets Somalia’s president on Thursday, showing U.S. support for a fragile government which is battling against militants including al Shabaab insurgents.

Australian police said this week they had uncovered a plot to attack an army base in Sydney by men with alleged links to al Shabaab which Washington accuses of being al Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia.

Clinton said she would discuss with President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed how the world could help stabilise the Horn of Africa country, which Western security agencies say is a haven for militants plotting attacks in the region and beyond.

“We know we’re facing a very difficult conflict, and we also know that the presence of al Shabaab and terrorist elements within Somalia poses a threat,” said Clinton, ahead of the meeting, on the sidelines of a U.S.-African trade conference.

“It poses a threat to Kenya, poses a threat to the stability of Africa and beyond. So this is an area where we’re going to work even more closely together,” she added.

The United States has offered military aid to Somalia’s government, including more than 40 tonnes of weapons and ammunition in recent months, as it battles al Shabaab.

At the meeting, in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Clinton is expected to promise more financial aid, including additional shipments of weapons, although these had been scheduled a while ago, a senior U.S. official travelling with Clinton said.

Washington has also offered training for security forces and logistical help.

NO U.S. TROOPS

The Obama administration has ruled out sending U.S. forces to help fight against Islamist militants. The last U.S. involvement in Somalia — during Clinton’s husband Bill Clinton’s presidency — ended in shambles.

In a battle that inspired the film “Black Hawk Down”, 18 U.S. soldiers were killed in Mogadishu in October 1993, marking the beginning of the eventual withdrawal of a U.S.-U.N. peacekeeping force from Somalia.

There is still debate within the Obama administration over how to handle the crisis and whether putting full U.S. support behind Ahmed is wise.

Ahmed was elected in January under a U.N.-brokered process that was Somalia’s 15th attempt to set up a central government since 1991.

Africa expert Jennifer Cooke of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington thinktank, said while Ahmed’s government was seen as imperfect, he was also viewed by many as the only option available.

“I am not sure what she is going to get out of this meeting,” said Cooke of Clinton’s meeting, which is also expected to tackle a rise in piracy off Somalia’s coast.

The Horn of Africa’s coastal waters — vital shipping lanes linking Asia and Europe — have become a focus of pirates who have made off with countless millions of dollars in ransom from hijacking vessels, including U.S.-flagged ships.

Pirates are expected to step up attacks on ships off Somalia’s coast in the coming months as the end of the monsoon season brings better weather.

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