Page last updated at 13:42 GMT, Wednesday, 8 July 2009 14:42 UK

DR Congo army 'to act over rapes'

Congolese soldiers, file image
DR Congo troops are trying to flush rebels out of the east

The Congolese military has promised to punish any soldiers found guilty of rights abuses, after activists claimed troops were carrying out mass rape.

Military spokesman Colonel Leon Richard Kasonga said commanders must ensure the safety of civilians.

Last week US-based group Human Rights Watch said the army was responsible for most of the rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo's war-torn east.

The Red Cross says 400,000 people have fled the conflict since March.

Both government troops and the rebels who they are battling are often accused of attacking civilians.

But a statement from army headquarters signed by Col Kasonga said: "From this day, any serviceman guilty of reprehensible acts will feel the full force of the law."


The statement listed acts including "rapes, forcing civilians to carry out forced labour, theft, extortion, torture, looting, malicious destruction of fields or livestock murders".

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

In a report released on Wednesday the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said 400,000 people had fled the conflict in the provinces of North and South Kivu since March.

The ICRC's outgoing DR Congo chief, Max Hadorn, described it as a "very big problem" for the government to deal with.

"The main problem is protection. It's really related to the deployment of armed forces, not collateral damage," he said.

Last week Human Rights Watch (HRW) said President Joseph Kabila had promised to tackle the army's abuses.

HRW said thousands of women and girls had been raped since the start of the offensive, and that government soldiers were responsible for the majority of the attacks.

Its report said the UN, with 12,000 peacekeepers backing the troops, risked 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.

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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