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Page last updated at 13:54 GMT, Thursday, 2 July 2009 14:54 UK

DR Congo troops accused of rapes

A Congolese soldier, file image
The UN backs the Congolese army offensive

Government troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo carry out most of the rapes of civilians caught up in the war with rebel groups, a rights group says.

US-based Human Rights Watch says thousands have been raped by rebels and soldiers in the past six months.

And it says the UN, with 12,000 peacekeepers backing the troops, risks becoming "complicit" in the atrocities.

But the UN operation in DR Congo, Monuc, said it was pushing for troops carrying out abuses to be punished.

'Weapon of war'

BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut says the mineral and timber wealth of the Kivu region of eastern DR Congo has transformed it into one of the most fought-over areas on Earth.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been caught in fighting between rival rebel groups.

The government, backed by the UN, launched an offensive last December to try to flush out the rebels.

Map

But Human Rights Watch described the offensive as a "disaster for civilians" and says both sides continue to use rape and other sexual violence as a "weapon of war".

"The majority of the rape cases investigated by Human Rights Watch were attributed to soldiers from the Congolese army," the group says.

The group warns that the UN should not support Congolese armed forces, who it accuses of carrying out war crimes and failing to protect civilians and refugees.

"By continuing to back such military operations, the peacekeepers risk becoming complicit in abuses," says the organisation's executive director, Kenneth Roth.

But Monuc's Madnodje Mounoubai denied HRW's allegations.

"There are some elements who are behaving like Human Rights Watch is describing," he told the BBC.

"We are working with the government to start to improve this situation by pushing the government to put more discipline within the armed forces."

He said the UN was encouraging the government to arrest and try soldiers accused of atrocities.

Eastern DR Congo has been unstable for some 15 years, with various militias battling each other.

These include ethnic Tutsi and Hutu groups, some of whom have come across the border from Rwanda.



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