UN says 126 rapes committed in Congo town after army arrived

Rapes in Congo

The U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo found that 126 women were raped in an eastern town after Congolese troops fled there last month as rebels advanced on the provincial capital of Goma, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

Congolese troops, aided by U.N. peacekeepers have been battling the so-called M23 rebels - who U.N. experts and Congolese officials say are backed by neighboring Rwanda for the past eight months in the resource-rich east of the country.

Congolese troops retreated to the nearby town of Minova when the rebels captured Goma on Nov. 20. Kinshasa regained control of Goma almost two weeks later when the rebels withdrew, but the United Nations said the situation remains "tense and fragile."

The U.N. mission, known at MONUSCO, was investigating alleged human rights abuses in and around Minova from Nov. 20 to Nov. 30 and this month interviewed more than 200 people in the area, said U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky.

"According to preliminary findings the U.N. mission has documented at least 126 cases of rape. The teams were also able to confirm the killings of two civilians, including one minor," Nesirky told reporters.

"The Congo lese Armed Forces have started investigating those human rights violations," Nesirky said. "To date nine soldiers from the armed forces have been arrested, two in connection with the rapes and seven in connection with looting."

The United Nations was working with the Congolese government to establish which army units the men belonged to so the world body could review any support provided to those units, he said.

"It would appear that most of those rapes were committed by FARDC (Congolese army) soldiers," U.N. Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council.

MONUSCO has more than 17,000 troops in the Congo - a nation the size of Western Europe - and even before the M23 rebellion, the peacekeepers were stretched thin and the U.N. force was struggling to fulfill its mandate of protecting civilians.

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