Page last updated at 10:38 GMT, Tuesday, 3 November 2009

DR Congo criticises UN army snub

Congolese soldiers, file image
The UN said civilians had been deliberately targeted by the army

The UN was wrong to withdraw backing from government troops fighting rebels in Democratic Republic of Congo, the country's information minister says.

Lambert Mende Omalanga told the BBC he knew nothing about the alleged killing of 62 civilians by the army - the reason the UN gave for its move.

Human rights groups have long accused soldiers of raping and killing civilians - and the UN of complicity.

UN forces have helped fight Hutu rebels near the Rwanda border since January.

The rebels fled Rwanda in 1994 after being accused of involvement in the genocide and have been the cause of major unrest in eastern DR Congo and the region ever since.

Macheted, beaten, shot

On Monday UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said the army had "clearly targeted" civilians between May and September this year, and announced an end to UN support for the units involved.

Mr Omalanga told the BBC's Network Africa programme he was unaware of the specific allegations made by Mr Le Roy, saying he was waiting for fact-finding missions.

But he said wrongdoers in the army were being rooted out of the military and punished.

Congo map

"We know that within our army there are some criminal elements - as there are with any other army in the world," he said.

"We do support the initiative of Monuc [UN peacekeeping operation] but we do not agree with the unilateral management of our army's issues by our partners."

The killings are said to have taken place in remote areas of North Kivu province.

On Monday Human Rights Watch said their missions in North Kivu had concluded that 270 civilians had been deliberately killed since March.

The group said most of the victims were women, children and old people - some of whom were decapitated, others were chopped to death by machete, beaten to death with clubs, or shot as they tried to flee.

The group has long been critical of the military operation in the area, and Mr Omalanga angrily rebuffed their claims.

"There is no day that can pass without Human Rights Watch accusing our government or our army or our police," he said.

"Human Rights Watch is working for Human Rights Watch and not for the Congolese people."

Fighters from several rival rebel groups have been incorporated into the DR Congo army under a deal to end years of conflict.

The UN move came after days of intense fighting between government forces and FDLR rebels around the village of Lukweti, about 100km (62 miles) north-west of North Kivu's provincial capital Goma.

The government says military operations in the area have been suspended to allow an inquiry into the allegations.

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