NKorean leader appears to be headed home

A man believed to be North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (2nd R) walks out of a hotel while surrounded by security guards before heading to a car convoy in Jilin, China, in this video frame grab provided by Japan’s national public broadcasting organization, NHK, August 27, 2010.

August 28, 2010

CHANGCHUN, China (KATAKAMI / AP)  – North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il apparently headed home Saturday after a secretive and surprise trip that reportedly included a meeting with China’s top leader to appeal for diplomatic and financial support for a succession plan involving his youngest son.

Reporters have followed a motorcade — apparently used by the reclusive Kim — around several cities in northeast China. The 35-vehicle convoy accompanied by police cars with flashing lights was seen headed to the train station in Changchun.

Kim rarely leaves North Korea and when he does he travels by special train. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported the train left the station, although it did not give a destination.

North Korea does not announce Kim’s trips until he returns home, and China has refused to say if he is in the country, even though a Japanese television station had a grainy picture of him.

Kim was reportedly accompanied by his son, Kim Jong Un, believed to be in his 20s. Many North Korea watchers predict the son will be appointed to a key party position at a ruling Workers’ Party meeting early next month — the first such gathering in decades.

To pull off the event with sufficient fanfare, North Korea will need Chinese aid, particularly following the devastating floods that battered the country’s northwest this month, analysts said.

“The convention needs to be festive with the party giving out food or normalizing day-to-day life for its people, but with the recent flood damages they are not able to,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute think tank outside Seoul.

“The most important thing on Kim’s agenda is scoring Chinese aid, which will ensure that the meeting will be well received by the people.”

Asked whether Kim was visiting China, a duty officer with the press office of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said: “China and North Korea consistently maintain high-level contacts. We will release the relevant information in good time.”

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi sidestepped a question from his visiting Japanese counterpart about widespread reports saying Kim was visiting China, Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Satoru Satoh said. Yang made no response to the query but said China will continue cooperating with Japan on the North Korea issue, Satoh said.

South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper and Yonhap both reported that Kim was believed to have met Chinese President Hu Jintao in Changchun on Friday.

The Dong-a Ilbo newspaper carried a similar report, saying the two are believed to have discussed the North’s succession, the resumption of six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear program, and ways to strengthen bilateral economic cooperation.

China, as North Korea’s biggest diplomatic ally and a major source of food aid and oil, would expect to be kept in the loop about major political transitions in the North, but the Beijing leadership is not likely to be enthusiastic about the prospect of another dynastic succession next door, said Zhu Feng, director of Peking University’s Center for International and Strategic Studies.

Kim also badly needs Chinese aid because of flooding earlier this month that damaged or destroyed more than 7,000 homes, and inundated 17,800 acres (7,200 hectares) of farmland close to the border with China, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported this week.

KCNA said China has already agreed to deliver some aid to help North Korea cope with the disaster but didn’t give specifics.

The North faces chronic food shortages and has relied on outside aid to feed much of its 24 million people since a famine that is believed to have killed as many as 2 million people in the 1990s.

In an attempt to improve its meager economy, it has experimented with limited market reforms and sought foreign investment, mostly from China and South Korea. But tensions with the South have caused trade and joint economic projects with the South to wither and raised the importance of Pyongyang’s ties to Beijing.



US Man Imprisoned in North Korea Arrives Home

Aijalon Gomes reaches for his mother Jacqueline McCarthy after arriving at Logan International Airport in Boston, Friday, Aug. 27, 2010. Former President Jimmy Carter flew to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, this week on a private mission to secure a pardon for the 31-year-old American. (AP)

August 28, 2010

(KATAKAMI / VOA)  — Aijalon Mahli Gomes has arrived in the northeastern U.S. city of Boston, Massachusetts, where he was immediately mobbed by family members who welcomed him home after eight months in a North Korean prison.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter secured the American citizen’s release during a mission to Pyongyang.  A chartered flight carrying the two men landed in Boston early Friday afternoon.

Television footage showed Gomes hugging Mr. Carter and family members surrounding Gomes and the former president at the airport in Boston.

In a statement Friday, the Gomes’ family described his eight months in captivity as a “long, dark and difficult period,” and they thanked Carter for his efforts.  The family passed by media microphones at the airport without commenting.

In New York, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the North Korean decision to release Gomes on humanitarian grounds and urged nations to send emergency aid to North Korea, which has been suffering from devastating floods.

The U.S. State Department said earlier that it welcomed the release, and said that was the sole purpose of Mr. Carter’s private mission.  There had been widespread media speculation that Mr. Carter also would hold political talks with the North Koreans.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was reported to be visiting China during most of Mr. Carter’s stay in Pyongyang.  But official North Korean media reported the former president did meet with senior officials, including the second-in-command, Kim Yong Nam.

The reports said Kim reiterated to Mr. Carter the North’s interest in a return to six-party talks on its nuclear program and the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Gomes was detained in January after entering the isolated country from China.  He was sentenced in April to eight years of hard labor and fined $700,000 for illegally crossing the border.

U.S. concerns about Gomes increased following reports that he tried to commit suicide last month.

Gomes had been teaching English in South Korea.  His friends described him as a passionate Christian activist who was influenced by U.S. missionary Robert Park, who entered North Korea a month before Gomes.  Park was arrested and expelled from the country two months later.

Mr. Carter previously traveled to North Korea in 1994 to meet with Kim Jong Il’s father, Kim Il Sung.  The talks led to a landmark nuclear disarmament pact. 

President Obama’s Weekly Address : The End of Combat Operations in Iraq

(File) President Obama with U.S. troops during his visit to Camp Victory, Iraq, Pete Souza, 4/7/09

August 28, 2010

(KATAKAMI / WHITE HOUSE GOV) — On Tuesday, after more than seven years, the United States of America will end its combat mission in Iraq and take an important step forward in responsibly ending the Iraq war.

As a candidate for this office, I pledged I would end this war.  As President, that is what I am doing.  We have brought home more than 90,000 troops since I took office.  We have closed or turned over to Iraq hundreds of bases.  In many parts of the country, Iraqis have already taken the lead for security.

In the months ahead, our troops will continue to support and train Iraqi forces, partner with Iraqis in counterterrorism missions, and protect our civilian and military efforts.  But the bottom line is this: the war is ending.  Like any sovereign, independent nation, Iraq is free to chart its own course.  And by the end of next year, all of our troops will be home.

As we mark the end of America’s combat mission in Iraq, a grateful nation must pay tribute to all who have served there.  Because part of responsibly ending this war is meeting our responsibility to those who have fought it.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now make up America’s longest continuous combat engagement.  For the better part of a decade, our troops and their families have served tour after tour with honor and heroism, risking and often giving their lives for the defense of our freedom and security.  More than one million Americans in uniform have served in Iraq – far more than any conflict since Vietnam.  And more than one million who have served in both wars have now finished their service and joined the proud ranks of America’s veterans.

What this new generation of veterans must know is this: our nation’s commitment to all who wear its uniform is a sacred trust that is as old as our republic itself.  It is one that, as President, I consider a moral obligation to uphold.

At the same time, these are new wars; with new missions, new methods, and new perils.  And what today’s veterans have earned – what they have every right to expect – is new care, new opportunity, and a new commitment to their service when they come home.

That’s why, from the earliest days of my Administration, we’ve been strengthening that sacred trust with our veterans by making our veterans policy more responsive and ready for this new century.

We’re building a 21st century VA, modernizing and expanding VA hospitals and health care, and adapting care to better meet the unique needs of female veterans.  We’re creating a single electronic health record that our troops and veterans can keep for life.  We’re breaking the claims backlog and reforming the process with new paperless systems.  And we are building new wounded warrior facilities through the Department of Defense

But for many of our troops and their families, the war doesn’t end when they come home.  Too many suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – the signature injuries of today’s wars – and too few receive proper screening or care.  We’re changing that.  We’re directing significant resources to treatment, hiring more mental health professionals, and making major investments in awareness, outreach, and suicide prevention.  And we’re making it easier for a vet with PTSD to get the benefits he or she needs.

To make sure our troops, veterans, and their families have full access to the American Dream they’ve fought to defend, we’re working to extend them new opportunity.  Michelle and Jill Biden have forged a national commitment to support military families while a loved one is away.  We’ve guaranteed new support to caregivers who put their lives on hold for a loved one’s long recovery.  We’re funding and implementing the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which is already helping some 300,000 veterans and their family members pursue their dream of a college education.

And for veterans trying to find work in a very tough economy, we’ve devoted new resources to job training and placement. I’ve directed the federal government to hire more veterans, including disabled veterans, and I encourage every business in America to follow suit. This new generation of veterans has proven itself to be a new generation of leaders.  They have unmatched training and skills; they’re ready to work; and our country is stronger when we tap their extraordinary talents.

New care.  New opportunity.  A new commitment to our veterans.

If you’d like to send our troops and veterans a message of thanks and support, just visit whitehouse.gov.  There, you’ll find an easy way to upload your own text or video.

Let them know that they have the respect and support of a grateful nation.  That when their tour ends; when they see our flag; when they touch our soil; they’ll always be home in an America that is forever here for them – just as they’ve been there for us.  That is the promise our nation makes to those who serve.  And as long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, it’s a promise we’ll keep.  Thank you.

Putin stresses importance of new Far East space center

August 28, 2010

(KATAKAMI / RIA NOVOSTI) — Prime Minister Vladimir Putin underlined on Saturday the significance of a planned new space center in Russia’s Far East.

“We began talking about the necessity of building such a space center in 2005,” Putin, speaking at the Amur Region site where the Vostochny Space Center is to be built, said.

Russia currently uses two launch sites: the Baikonur space center in the Central Asian Republic of Kazakhstan, which it has leased since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Plesetsk space center in northwest Russia.

“The creation of a new space center…is one of modern Russia’s biggest and most ambitious projects,” Putin went on. “It will give us the opportunity not only to confirm Russia’s leading technological status…but will give hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young specialists the chance to prove their talents.”

He also said that while Russia had signed an agreement with “friendly” Kazakhstan on the continued use of Baikonur until 2050, the Kazakh center alone was not sufficient for “such a powerful space force as Russia.”

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said earlier in the day that all Russian manned space fights would be launched from the Vostochny Space Center from 2018,

He also said that cargoes and satellites would be launched from the space center from 2015.

The new space center, which will employ 20,000-25,000 people, will ensure Russia’s independence in the launch of piloted space vehicles, currently carried out at Baikonur.

Construction is expected to start in 2011, with design and survey work already under way.

Putin said in July that Russia would allocate 24.7 billion rubles (around $811,000) for the next three years for the construction of the space center.

Russia troops kill five North Caucasus rebels

Five militants killed in special operation in North Caucasus
Five militants killed in special operation in North Caucasus

(KATAKAMI / RIA NOVOSTI) — Five militants were killed on Saturday morning in a special operation in Nalchik, the capital of Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, a police source said.

The source told RIA Novosti that the militants had been hiding out in a flat in the city. He also said that no police officers were injured in the operation.

Four militants were also killed on Friday in nearby Dagestan, a spokesman for the republic’s Interior Ministry said on Saturday.

Militant violence is common in Russia’s mainly Muslim North Caucasus republics, especially Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia.

Obama to Visit New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina Anniversary

(KATAKAMI / VOA) — U.S. President Barack Obama is to visit the Gulf Coast city of New Orleans, Louisiana, Sunday to mark the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the region.

The massive storm and resulting flood killed more than 1,800 people and forced more than 1 million people from their homes.

New Orleans has been holding events all week to commemorate the anniversary.  Roughly 80 percent of the city was submerged by flooding after its levees were breached.

While much of the region has been rebuilt, some areas of New Orleans remain scarred by the storm.  Many people who fled their homes have not returned to the city.  A total of about 50,000 residential properties are still either uninhabitable or empty lots.

As the crisis unfolded, some residents in New Orleans were stranded on the rooftops of their flooded homes for days waiting for help.  Thousands of residents also sought refuge at the Superdome arena and New Orleans Convention Center, but ended up being stranded for days with little food or water.

The federal response to the disaster was widely criticized as slow and mismanaged, with critics blaming then-President George W. Bush and the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at the time, Michael Brown.

In television interviews this week, Brown said the administration made a “fatal mistake” by not disclosing how bad the situation really was.

Vacant properties are still prevalent in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, a historically African-American neighborhood that became a symbol of the devastation.

Katrina also destroyed homes across the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama when it slammed ashore on August 29, 2005.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the United States suffered more economic losses from Hurricane Katrina than any other storm in history.  The agency says damages and costs from the storm were estimated at around $125 billion.

In recent months, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has brought more devastation to the Gulf Coast.  The disaster has again crippled the seafood and tourism industries in the region.

American imprisoned in N. Korea returns to Boston

August 28, 2010

BOSTON  (KATAKAMI / AP) – An American held captive for seven months in North Korea stepped off a plane in his hometown Friday, looking thin but joyful as he hugged the former president who had helped win his release and family and friends surrounded him in a group embrace.

Aijalon Gomes was accompanied by former President Jimmy Carter, who had flown to Pyongyang to negotiate his freedom. Gomes, who had been teaching English in South Korea, was imprisoned and sentenced to eight years’ hard labor for crossing into the North from China on Jan. 25 for unknown reasons.

North Korea’s state-run news agency reported last month that Gomes had attempted suicide, leading his family to ask for his release on humanitarian grounds. North Korea said this week it would release Gomes to Carter if the former president went to get him.

Gomes hugged Carter and then his mother before his loved ones encircled him, praying and waving their hands skyward. One man gripped a small American flag, and others held a banner behind them that read: “Welcome home! Disciple of the Lord Aijalon Mahli Gomes. Salvation is ours.”

The banner also pictured a Christian cross and contained biblical references to Acts, Psalms, and Job, an Old Testament book about a man who survived great tribulation.

Gomes’ mother and family members hugged Carter and shook his hand before the group headed inside the terminal, as Gomes smiled and waved at loved ones along the way. A few minutes later, Carter reboarded the plane and left Boston.

In a statement released earlier Friday, the family thanked Carter and said it felt blessed to welcome Gomes home after what it called “a long, dark and difficult period.”

“I’m just joyful and grateful that my son is home and thank President Jimmy Carter for making sure that he was home safely,” Gomes’ mother, Jacqueline McCarthy, said as she left her home for the airport. “I thank God, I thank God, for everything everyone has done for us.”

The family also thanked the North Korean government “for caring for Aijalon during his darkest days, then agreeing to release him on humanitarian grounds.”


Reuters

The statement requested privacy so Gomes could recover from the ordeal, saying that although he was returning home, “the journey towards healing really just begins today.” The family passed by media microphones at the airport without commenting.

But later outside McCarthy’s home, several of Gomes’ relatives spoke to the media and said Gomes appeared to be fine physically.

“He looks well, he looks very well,” his uncle Michael Farrow said.

His 19-year-old brother, Milton McCarthy Jr., described feeling “an overwhelming amount of joy and happiness” when he hugged Gomes.

“It was just like they said, a prayer being answered,” he said. “It was truly a blessing.”

Family members said they’d had a limited chance to speak with Gomes and added he wasn’t expected back at his mother’s home Friday, though they didn’t say where he was staying.

“He’s just grateful to be home, and he’s just thanking God for his safe return,” his cousin Ron Odom said.

In Washington, the Department of State welcomed the news of Gomes’ release, saying officials are “relieved that he will soon be safely reunited with his family,” spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

It was unclear what led Gomes to enter the repressive nation. He may have been emulating fellow Christian Robert Park, who was detained after he crossed into North Korea in December to highlight its human rights record, said Jo Sung-rae, a South Korean human rights advocate who met with Gomes. Park was expelled some 40 days later after issuing an apology carried by North Korean state media.

Gomes attended rallies in Seoul in January calling for Park’s release and was arrested in North Korea just two weeks later.

Gomes, whose full name is pronounced EYE’-jah-lahn GOHMZ’, grew up the inner-city Boston neighborhood of Mattapan, then headed to college at Bowdoin in Maine before going to South Korea to teach several years after graduating.

He was the fourth American in a year arrested for trespassing in North Korea, which fought the U.S. during the 1950-53 Korean War and does not have diplomatic relations with Washington. Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were arrested last March and released only after former President Bill Clinton made a similar trip to Pyongyang to plead for their freedom.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed Gomes’ release and commended Carter. He took the occasion to appeal to donors for emergency humanitarian aid to North Korea, which has been affected by recent flooding, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said at U.N. headquarters in New York.

Venezuela’s Chavez says oil price “stabilized”

Motorist drive past a banner with the picture of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez along a highway in Caracas August 25, 2010. (Credit: Reuters/Jorge Silva)

August 28, 2010

(KATAKAMI / Reuters) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Friday that oil prices were stabilizing, giving his South American OPEC member nation’s crude an average barrel price of nearly $70 this year.

“The price of oil recovered and it’s more or less stabilized,” he said in comments carried live on TV.

“We had thought it could collapse again this year, there was a threat it might fall to $40. But no, thanks among other things to OPEC and the oil production cut, it’s nearly $70, the Venezuelan oil,” he said.

Venezuela’s crude has averaged $69.60 so far this year, according to the Energy Ministry.

Venezuelan crudes, which are mostly heavy and high in sulfur, trade at a discount to benchmark grades such as West Texas Intermediate because of their low quality.

U.S. oil prices rose a third straight day on Friday, with crude for October delivery at $75.17 a barrel.

Chavez reiterated that Venezuela was producing about 3 million barrels a day, but said there should be a “leap” in production thanks to new projects in the Orinoco belt towards the end of 2011.

David Cameron: David Miliband greatest threat to Conservatives

August 27, 2010

(KATAKAMI / GUARDIAN.CO.UK) — David Miliband poses the greatest threat to the Conservative party of all the candidates in the Labour leadership contest, David Cameron has said in private remarks that could change the dynamic of the campaign just days before millions of ballot papers are posted.

To the likely delight of the older Miliband, who enters the final stages as the frontrunner, the prime minister has made it clear he believes the shadow foreign secretary stands the best chance of reaching out to middle Britain.

A well-placed source told the Guardian: “David Cameron said the candidate he hoped for was Ed Miliband, and the candidate he most feared was David Miliband.”

Ed Miliband, who is thought to be slightly behind his brother in first preference votes, but who hopes second choice votes will propel him to victory, is likely to be irritated by Cameron’s remarks, which echo those of supporters of Tony Blair: his backers believe that his elder brother is being supported by what they describe as the “Blair machinery”.

Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Tory high command believes David Miliband is flawed and lacks the easy manner of Tony Blair, who was regarded by Cameron and George Osborne as unbeatable. But Downing Street believes that the senior Miliband, who this week told the Labour party to abandon its “comfort zone”, stands the best chance of reaching the sort of voters wooed by Blair.

Tories believe that Ed Miliband is an intellectual heavyweight, but showed the influence of his mentor, Gordon Brown, this week when he in effect attacked his brother with a warning about remaining in the “New Labour comfort zone”.

One senior Tory said: “Labour needs to rebuild the coalition that gave Tony Blair three successive election victories. David Miliband appears best placed to do that. He at least gives the impression of being able to lead.”

One minister said: “On the whole we would prefer if Ed Miliband won. His analysis that Labour has to go for a traditional Labour vote, rather than the middle classes, is absolutely wrong. The Ed Miliband analysis will lead them into big trouble.”

The Tories are cautioning that they would not regard a victory by David Miliband in the way they were terrified by Blair’s win in 1994. John Maples, a senior Tory, wrote an internal memo saying that Blair posed a grave threat to the Tories.

Senior Tories have also expressed satisfaction that the Labour leadership contest appears not to have enthused the public. “It really does remind us of the Conservative party in the late 1990s,” one senior figure said. “The contest has not energised anyone outside the party and is seen as a bit of a joke.”

The remarks by the Tories show that while the party does not believe Labour presents an immediate threat, they will need to assess a David Miliband victory with care.

Cameron was overheard making his remarks about the Miliband brothers at Rupert Murdoch’s summer party in June.

The prime minister often talks in private about the Labour leadership contest. One of his familiar jokes is to say that he is praying that Ed Balls will win, on the grounds that he would love to face the political successor of Brown across the despatch box every week.

The views of the Tory party came as tensions between the Miliband brothers deepened today when Ed Miliband warned that supporters of New Labour were “out of touch” with voters.

In a speech in London, the shadow climate change secretary said: “Traditional New Labour solutions won’t work, and that is why I am the modernising candidate in this election. New Labour fell into the same trap as old Labour, clinging to old truths that had served their time. We got stuck with old certainties, bad policies and became out of touch. The New Labour modernisers became the New Labour traditionalists – and that’s why we need to modernise again.”

The Miliband brothers have traded blows, though not by name, over where to position the party. David Miliband said that Labour needs to reach out to mainstream voters and abandon its “comfort zone”. Ed Miliband threw this language back at his older brother by saying the party needs to steer clear of the “New Labour comfort zone”.

Senior Burmese military leaders resign to take part in election

Reports had earlier suggested Gen Than Shwe would step down Photo: EPA

August 27, 2010

(KATAKAMI / TELEGRAPH.CO.UK)  —  Army number three Thura Shwe Mann is among those who have stepped down ahead of the November 7 poll, although government sources denied an earlier report that Gen Than Shwe, who has ruled Burma since 1992, and his deputy Gen Maung Aye, were among those to resign.

The same source said those who had retired from the military will join the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and “will take part in the election”.

Earlier reports had suggested Gen Shwe had retired from his army post but would remain head of state.

The conflicting reports come as the country gears up for its first elections since democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) was denied office by the junta after winning a landslide victory in 1990.

Critics and the West have said the upcoming vote, which will guarantee a quarter of the legislature for the army, is a sham aimed at putting a civilian mask on the junta.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate whose popularity is a thorn in the junta’s side, has been in detention for much of the last twenty years and is barred from standing in the election because she is a serving prisoner.

The NLD – which would have been the greatest threat to the junta – is boycotting the upcoming poll, saying the rules are unfair. As a result, it was forcibly disbanded by the ruling generals.

A new democratic party, the National Democracy Force (NDF), was formed by former NLD members who decided to participate in the vote although it does not have the support of Suu Kyi, who favoured a boycott.

So far around 40 political parties have been given permission to stand in the polls, but some have expressed concerns, including over intimidation of their members.

U.N. Security Council holds emergency session on Congo rapes

A file image from UNTV, released as the United Nations released more details about a mass rape in the DRC.

United Nations (KATAKAMI / CNN) — The United Nations Security Council in New York held an emergency session Thursday to discuss and condemn widespread rapes in eastern Congo, while the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. said she was troubled by a briefing on the attacks.

“We are horrified, and we are outraged, and that led us, in conjunction with the French, to request this detailed briefing this morning,” said Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., on Thursday. “It was a disturbing briefing, both for what we learned and what we don’t know still.”

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in eastern Congo was aware that Rwandan rebels were occupying villages in the region in late July and early August, but did not know of reports that the rebels were raping women in those villages, U.N. officials said this week.

Nearly 200 women were gang-raped by hundreds of Rwandan and Congolese rebels, humanitarian officials said.

Roger Meece, a representative for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said the United Nations was alerted to rebel activity in the area but was not notified of the mass rapes.

“There was no particular question of an attack, much less the kind of events like mass rape,” Meece said Wednesday.

// But a senior United Nations official said Thursday that the U.N. was to blame for the incident and that the organization should leave the Congo if it could not protect civilians.

“We are guilty of a conspiracy of silence,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is a current member of the peacekeeping mission in Congo and is under orders not to criticize the U.N. publicly. “If we can’t help civilians, there is no point in being here.”

“These things happen all the time. It may not be 180, it may be 10, but it happens all the time,” the official said. “Our colleagues are part of the problem–it’s pretty bad.”

“They take it for granted, that people in Congo just have to suffer,” the official continued. “Some of the people in our hierarchy keep saying ‘it’s not going to change’… They just seem apathetic. It is very rare to meet anyone who wants to make a difference.”

The United Nations did not reply to requests for comment on allegations Thursday evening.

U.N. officials said that an e-mail warning of rebel activities was sent to U.N. and other staff working in the area.

Madnoje Mounoubai, a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in eastern Congo — known by the acronym MONUSCO — said the U.N. was first alerted to the rapes by humanitarian organizations on August 12.

The U.N., which maintains a number of peacekeeping bases in the region, made its first public comments on the attacks Monday.

But the account of the delay was disputed by the International Medical Corps, a non-governmental organization that operates in the region. IMC spokeswoman Margaret Aguirre told CNN that her group informed the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs about the rapes on August 6, a day after IMC representatives had visited the affected villages.

Rice said that she and the French ambassador asked many questions about the situation on Thursday.

“I just want to take this opportunity to reiterate from the U.S. point of view our strongest possible condemnation of the rapes and attacks that occurred against scores of innocent civilians,” she said after the briefing.

Vitaly Churkin, of the Russian Federation and this month’s Security Council president, said Thursday, “The members of the Security Council reiterated their demand that all parties with the armed conflict immediately cease completely all forms of sexual violence and all human rights abuses against the civilian population of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including gender-based violence including rape and other forms of sexual abuse.”

According to humanitarian organizations, rebels raided a network of villages in North Kivu province between July 30 and August 3 and raped 179 women. Many of them were gang-raped individually by between two to six men.

A U.N. peacekeeper military base was within 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) of the general area of the attacks, in the town of Kibua.

“We had regular patrols in this area during that period,” Mounoubai told CNN by phone from Kinshasa Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, the villagers and the local authorities never brought this issue to our knowledge. If we are not informed, it will be difficult for us to know,” he added.

Giorgio Trombatore, director for the International Medical Corps in the Congo, said he was among the first group of people to visit the site of the attacks.

“Two hundred to 400 armed men systematically pillaged and raped women in the villages,” Trombatore said.

“The rebels entered, tried to calm the population down by telling them they came for food and rest, and so [they] shouldn’t flee,” he said. “Another group came at night and it was then they started harassing the population.”

Armed men often raped the women in front of their children and husbands, IMC said in a news release.

“Large numbers of women reported being physically beaten before the sexual assaults, and some reported abuse of babies who were forcibly removed from their arms. The perpetrators simultaneously pillaged the entire village and smaller neighboring villages, before leaving.”

During the four-day attack across 16 villages, according to the U.N., rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, as well as militiamen from the notorious Mai Mai movement, also looted villages.

An earlier report said three peacekeepers were killed and seven others were wounded, but those deaths and injuries stemmed from a previous incident.

Ban said Tuesday he was “outraged” by the attacks.

“This is another grave example of both the level of sexual violence and the insecurity that continue to plague the DRC,” Ban said in a statement.

He has dispatched a senior representative — Atul Khare, his assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations — to the affected areas in and around Walikale, the epicenter of the rapes, to meet with victims.

Margot Wallstrom, the secretary-general’s special representative on sexual violence, was expected to stop in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, before going on to visit Walikale.

Churkin, the Security Council president, said the council welcomed the secretary-general’s decision to dispatch a special representative to consult with authorities in Congo. That representative, Churkin said, would dig for facts about the rapes and assess what more could be done to ensure effective protection of civilians.

In Washington, State Department Secretary Hillary Clinton said Wednesday she was “deeply concerned” by the reports.

“The United States has repeatedly condemned the epidemic of sexual violence in conflict zones around the world, and we will continue to speak out on this issue for those who cannot speak for themselves,” she said in a statement. “The United States will do everything we can to work with the U.N. and the DRC government to hold the perpetrators of these acts accountable, and to create a safe environment for women, girls and all civilians living in the eastern Congo.”

Ban has called on Congolese authorities to investigate the rapes and bring the perpetrators to justice, and for the government to step up its efforts to ensure civilian security. Officials with MONUSCO will hold an internal staff meeting between the civilian and military departments Thursday in Goma.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo was ranked as the fifth-worst failed state in the world in a 2010 listing created by the Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy Magazine.

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