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DR Congo 'civilian deaths' probed

The bodies of two people allegedly shot by rebel soldiers loyal to Gen Laurent Nkunda in Kiwanja (6 November 2008)
UN soldiers and journalists found at least a dozen corpses in Kiwanja

The UN is investigating reports that rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo have shot dead civilians in their homes in the eastern town of Kiwanja.

At least 12 bodies were found in the town, which was retaken by rebels loyal to Laurent Nkunda earlier this week.

Gen Nkunda claimed his fighters, who have also seized control of the town of Nyanzale in the north, had attacked armed pro-government militia.

The UN is due to hold summit on the DR Congo crisis in Kenya on Friday.

UN spokesman Lt-Col Jean Paul Dietrich said Gen Laurent Nkunda's troops had taken the town in North Kivu province, breaking the ceasefire he had declared.

Human rights groups have accused Gen Nkunda's forces and militia of committing war crimes and criticised UN peacekeepers for failing to prevent the killings.

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Gen Laurent Nkunda's troops in training

Meanwhile, a British charity says there has been a sharp increase in the number of children being abducted and made to fight for Congolese rebels.

Before the recent fighting, there were an estimated 3,000 child soldiers across the country, but that number is now expected to be far higher.

Save the Children says they have uncovered at least two cases of militiamen ambushing children on their way to school or forcing their way into classrooms.

'UN failings'

UN soldiers and journalists say they found the bodies of at least a dozen men when they entered Kiwanja.

Residents had recently begun to returning to the town, having earlier been ordered to leave by Gen Nkunda, so his troops could fight the Pareco Mai-Mai forces he claims are backed by the Congolese government.

The UN should not leave these defenceless people to be slaughtered by fighters on both sides
Anneke Van Woudenberg
Human Rights Watch

Witnesses said Gen Nkunda's forces went from door-to-door, killing those they suspected of supporting militia.

"They knocked on the doors, when the people opened, they killed them with their guns," said Simo Bramporiki, whose wife and child were killed during the night.

One woman showed journalists the bodies of five men inside her house, one of them her husband, and two more lying outside.

Reports say there was nothing to indicate the men, most of whom were wearing civilian clothing, were fighters.

Gen Nkunda says his troops are trying to protect the Tutsi community against Hutu guerrillas who fled to DR Congo after the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

But Ajeni Niragasigwa, whose son was killed overnight, told reporters in Kiwanja: "They came to kill the people, they did not come to protect."

UN peacekeepers based nearby have been criticised for failing to intervene.

US-based group Human Rights Watch said that the UN "did not take adequate measures to protect civilians and carried out only a few patrols to limit the abuses".

"The UN should not leave these defenceless people to be slaughtered by fighters on both sides," said spokeswoman Anneke Van Woudenberg.

Rebel advance

In the latest fighting, Gen Nkunda's CNDP entered and took control of the centre of the large town of Nyanzale, about 80km (50 miles) north-west of Goma, says the UN.

Gen Nkunda defends his military actions

The UN mission, Monuc, is reinforcing its troops in the regional capital of North Kivu, Goma, and has warned that soldiers will fire on any armed group trying to enter the city.

Tens of thousands of people have sought refuge in Goma, which Gen Nkunda has threatened to attack.

Correspondents say a ceasefire around the city appears to be holding but the latest clashes have sparked fears the rebels could follow through on their threat to attack the city.

Meanwhile, Rwandan President Paul Kagame has blamed the international community for failing to address what he says are the root causes of the crisis, despite channelling tens of millions of dollars into the region.

He said the real reason for the crisis was what he described as the weak leadership of the Congolese government, which had failed to disarm Hutu rebels.

Mr Kagame is due to meet his Congolese counterpart Joseph Kabila at Friday's UN summit, which will be attended by UN General Secretary, Ban Ki-moon.

Aid suspended

Rebels loyal to Laurant Nkunda, 6 November
The UN accused the rebels of breaking the ceasefire they had declared

The fighting has prompted some aid agencies to suspend their operations, a day after bringing in the first food convoy to rebel-held territory.

The UN refugee agency has said three camps for displaced people near the town of Rutshuru have been destroyed, and that it is trying to establish the fate of about 50,000 people who had been there.

Gen Nkunda has threatened to topple the DR Congo government in Kinshasa, 1,580km (980 miles) west of Goma, unless President Kabila agrees to hold direct talks.

He has said his forces are now free to pursue their offensive, accusing the government of breaking the ceasefire.

But the BBC's Peter Greste in Goma says it is difficult to see how it would be logistically possible for the rebels to converge on Kinshasa.

Correspondents say the militia involvement in the fighting makes any push for negotiations between Gen Nkunda and the government more complicated.

Map of eastern DR Congo



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