Actress starts goodwill assignment in Congo

Saturday, August 9, 2003

— Jessica Lange, on her first assignment as a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. Children's Fund, said she wanted to draw attention to the use of rape as a weapon in the tribal violence that has spread through troubled northeastern Congo.

"The stories that these women tell are absolutely horrific, but the thing that moved me most was the extraordinary spirit of these people," the Oscar-winning actress said Thursday after listening to their harrowing accounts.

Earlier, at a feeding center catering to hundreds of severely malnourished children, Lange scooped up several children and cradled them in her arms.

She also toured a camp for 14,000 displaced people. Droves of children followed her along the muddy paths between tents of plastic sheeting.

According to the Swedish aid group KOOPI, more than 150 women were raped in a single month in this region the size of Belgium after the outbreak of fighting between rival Hema and Lendu tribal factions in May. The rapes were committed largely by the tribal fighters.

Hundreds of people were killed and thousands were forced to flee in the fighting that is a byproduct of a five-year civil war in Congo. The conflict has largely subsided, except in the eastern flank of Africa's third-largest nation.