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World News

Clinton to take fight against rape to east Congo

KINSHASA (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the use of women as “weapons of war” in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo must stop and that Kinshasa should do more to stamp out rape.

Clinton planned to meet President Joseph Kabila and U.N. peacekeepers Tuesday in the eastern Congolese city of Goma, capital of North Kivu province which aid groups say is the most dangerous place on earth for women and children.

She was also due have a private meeting with women who have suffered rape and other atrocities as part of her goal to raise international awareness and get both Congo and the United Nations to punish those responsible.

“It is truly one of mankind’s greatest atrocities. This country has seen humanity at its worst,” Clinton, a long-time advocate of women’s rights and the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Goma, said before travelling to eastern Congo.

Kinshasa and the U.N.’s biggest peacekeeping force, consisting of about 17,000 troops, are struggling to stabilise the east of the vast central African country after decades of dictatorship and a 1998-2003 war.

Clinton planned to raise the question of the illegal trade in minerals such as cassiterite and coltan, which are dug up in eastern Congo for use in consumer electronics like mobile phones and whose sale funds armed groups in the region.

“A central focus should be on the fuel that drives the violence -- the contest over the conflict minerals extracted from the eastern war zone and helping to power our electronics industry,” said Africa expert John Prendergast.

“Until the trade in minerals becomes legal and transparent, there will be no peace in Congo,” he said.

MINERAL WEALTH

Clinton has said she wanted corporations exploiting mineral wealth to understand that it was in their interests to help end the conflict.

In Goma, tens of thousands of displaced people are packed into camps and vulnerable to attacks.

The United Nations has accused all sides of human rights abuses in Congo, including mass killings, rape and lootings.

Last month, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence had been reported in eastern Congo since 1996 and aid workers said the numbers were not abating.

“I hope in (Democratic Republic of Congo) there will be a concerted effort to demand justice for women who are violently attacked and to make sure that their attackers are punished,” said Clinton.

She is on a seven-nation, 11-day trip to Africa. After visiting Goma, she is due to head for Nigeria where the focus will be on fighting corruption, a key theme of her trip, particularly in Kenya and in Angola.

Her final stops are Liberia and Cape Verde before returning to Washington on Aug 14.

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