|Margot Wallstrom, the UN special representative, hopes that Mayele's apprehention will lead to more arrests [AFP]
A DR Congo rebel commander has been arrested on suspicion of leading raids on villages in the country's east where 500 people were raped in late July and early August, the UN has said.
UN headquarters in New York circulated an announcement by the UN peacekeeping force in Congo of the arrest of commander of a tribal Mai-Mai militia, known as Lieutenant Colonel Mayele, for alleged mass rapes.
The UN said Mayele was arrested on Tuesday in a military operation carried out by the UN Mission for the Stabilisation of the DR Congo (Monusco) and the Congolese military.
A mean for intimidation
Rape has been increasingly used by various groups of fighters in eastern Congo to intimidate, punish and control the population, especially in the mining areas.
According to the UN announcement, the mass rapes and human rights violations are said to have been committed by about 200 Congolese Mai-Mai rebels, fighters from the Rwanda-led Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda or FDLR, and elements loyal to former Congolese army Colonel Emmanuel Nsengiyumva who was also a rebel in the former Tutsi-led People's National Congress or CNDP.
The UN force said a preliminary report from UN human rights officials identified 303 civilian victims, 235 women, 13 men, 52 girls and 3 boys.
Margot Wallstrom, who is responsible for UN efforts to combat sexual violence in conflict, told to Al Jazeera that Mayele's arrest "should send out a signal that sexual violence will not go unpunished."
"This is the first strong signal that says we are determined to end impunity, this is an important step forward. and the first of I hope an arrest for the ones responsible for the rape.
"This sends a strong signal in the military chain of command and to the rebel group that we keep you under our watch, and we will do everything we can to apprehend the perpetrator," she said.
Monusco said Mayele had been handed over to military judicial authorities who have opened a judicial inquiry.
Monusco said it will continue to pursue those responsible for the mass rapes so they can be brought to justice.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies