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Congo rebels defend plan to hold criminal trials

June 21, 2013

GOMA, Congo (AP) — A rebel group in eastern Congo on Friday defended its right to organize criminal trials despite concerns from the country’s United Nations mission, which has said that the proposed prosecution of 11 young men on weapons charges could not meet international standards.

The M23 rebel group routed the government army and swept past U.N. peacekeepers last November to occupy the city of Goma, one of the country’s biggest. The rebels are currently in peace talks with the government, though negotiations have been rocky.

Kabasha Amani, a civilian spokesman for the group, said Friday that the rebels could not ignore criminals in the areas they control.

“We are fighting criminality in the zone we control, and suspects must be put on trial,” Amani said. “If the U.N. thinks we should stop trying to administer our territory and should ignore criminals, we don’t think that would be a good thing. We have been holding trials and now we have trained some criminal investigators.”

Roger Meece, the head of the country’s U.N. mission, expressed concern over M23′s plans to organize a trial of 11 young men accused of illegally possessing weapons.

In a statement Wednesday, Meece said such proceedings “could not, in current circumstances, conform to international human rights standards nor would the accused have all the guarantees of a fair trial.”

He also called for “the immediate and unconditional dismantling of the M23′s illegitimate parallel administration.”

The rebels are under increasing pressure, facing a heavy buildup of government forces and the prospect that they might have to fight a new U.N. intervention brigade with an offensive mandate. They have been accused of rights abuses and have been widely blamed for the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.

Although Amani defended the group’s efforts to crack down on criminality, M23 military spokesman Vianney Kazarama declined to say whether the trial would go ahead.

Kazarama said the decision of whether to go through with the trial was “purely a political question.”

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