Arusha, January 6, 2015 (FH) – The Congolese army and UN force in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) should step up efforts to arrest wanted Maï Maï militia leader Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Tuesday.

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Congolese judicial authorities issued an arrest warrant for Sheka in January 2011 for crimes against humanity committed in eastern DRC, including mass rape.

“An arrest warrant alone won’t stop a rebel leader like Sheka from committing atrocities – Congo’s authorities need to bring him to justice,” said HRW senior Congo researcher Ida Sawyer. “The army and UN peacekeepers should increase their efforts to arrest him before more civilians suffer.”

Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka is a former minerals trader from Walikale who belongs to the Nyanga, ethnic group. In 2009 he formed an armed group called the Nduma Defense of Congo (NDC), supposedly to “promote development” in Walikale and “liberate” its mines from government control.

In July 2014, the Congolese army and MONUSCO launched military operations against Sheka’s militia in Walikale, North Kivu province. Officials said one of the objectives was to arrest Sheka, but the operations have been hampered by the remoteness of Walikale, a territory the size of Rwanda with few roads.

HRW said that since the arrest warrant was issued four years ago, Sheka’s forces have killed at least 70 civilians, many of whom were hacked to death by machete.

Sheka’s fighters sometimes mutilated the bodies of those they killed and paraded their body parts around town while chanting ethnic slurs, according to HRW.  It said Sheka’s forces raped women and girls and forcibly recruited scores of young men and boys into their ranks.

HRW says many of the worst abuses occurred in the strategic town of Pinga between August 2012 and November 2013. “When Sheka’s forces fled Pinga in November 2013, they took dozens of women and girls with them into the forests of Walikale, many of whom are still being held hostage as sex slaves,” said the rights group.