The United States sanctioned a top general and three rebel leaders from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Monday, accusing them of human rights abuses and brutal attacks against civilians in the east of the Central African country.
Those sanctioned included Brigadier General Muhindo Akili Mundos of the DRC armed forces, and Gedeon Kyungu Mutanga, Guidon Shimiray Mwissa and Lucien Nzabamwita of three rebel factions operating in DRC.
"We are targeting human rights abusers perpetuating the horrific conflict in the eastern DRC who have contributed to the tremendous suffering of the Congolese people," said John Smith, a director at the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, which oversees economic and trade sanctions.
"They are responsible for horrendous acts including sexual abuse and forced military recruitment of children into positions requiring them to commit acts of violence, among other atrocities," Smith said in a statement.
The U.S. actions come days after the U.N. Security Council blacklisted the four men for "planning, directing, or committing acts in the DRC that constitute human rights violations or abuses or violations of international humanitarian law."
Millions of people died in regional conflicts in eastern Congo between 1996-2003 and dozens of militia groups continue to operate there. The country is set to hold elections at end of December that are meant to replace President Joseph Kabila.
But election delays have raised tensions across the country, triggering street protests and encouraging armed rebellion, especially since Kabila refused to step down when his mandate expired at the end of 2016.
Mundos, who was accused in a confidential 2016 U.N. Security Council report with recruiting, financing and arming elements of a Ugandan Islamist group to kill civilians, is a close ally of Kabila.
He has repeatedly denied any personal responsibility for massacres in eastern Congo while he was in charge of a military operation targeting rebels.
The U.S. Treasury said Mutanga was a commander of the Mai Mai militia group who was convicted by a Congolese court in 2003 for crimes against humanity involving murder, executions, cannibalism, rape and mutilation. In 2011, he merged his Mai Mai group with the Bakata Katanga, known as Kata Katanga, which has been responsible for recruiting child soldiers.
Mwissa, who is from the NDC-R militia, was also responsible for recruiting child soldiers and imposing illegal taxes in gold-mining areas and using the proceeds to buy weapons in breach of an arms embargo, Treasury said. Nzabamwita is a military leader from the FDLR rebel group, accused of fomenting violence and instability.