South Africa to Probe Claims Its Soldiers Abused Congo Civilians

(Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s army opened an investigation into allegations its soldiers assaulted and tortured civilians while serving as United Nations peacekeepers in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The South African National Defence Force will send an investigating team to the Congo that is “going to work in close liaison with the UN,” military spokesman Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi said by phone Monday from the capital, Pretoria.

He said the investigators will arrive in Congo by early next week, without elaborating on the nature of the accusations. The spokesman for the UN mission in Congo, Florence Marchal, didn’t respond to calls from Bloomberg seeking comment.

More than 1,000 South African troops are in Congo as part of the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission worldwide. While there are over 16,000 UN soldiers currently deployed, the South African contingent is part of the Force Intervention Brigade which has a special, more pro-active mandate to “neutralize” and “disarm” armed groups active in eastern Congo.

Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said he wasn’t aware of the allegations. “In cases where there’s bad behavior among the troops which make up the peacekeepers, it is the governments of their own countries which lead the investigation and take necessary measures,” he said.

Fourteen Tanzanian peacekeepers were killed and more than 50 injured on Dec. 7 in eastern Congo, in the deadliest attack on UN forces in a quarter-century. The UN suspects the assault was carried out by the Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan Islamist militia that’s operated in that part of Congo since the 1990s.

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