The UN human rights chief accused the government in the Democratic Republic of Congo of backing a new armed group behind "horrific attacks" in Kasai provinces which included the killing and mutilating hundreds of civilians.

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on Tuesday called for an independent, international probe into hundreds of recent killings in central Congo, pointing to accounts of pregnant women and toddlers hacked to death and faulting the government for failing to protect its citizens.

"I am appalled by the creation and arming of a militia, the Bana Mura, allegedly to support the authorities in fighting the Kamwina Nsapu (rebels)," Zeid told the UN Human Rights Council.

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Over the past two months, the armed group had carried out "horrific attacks against civilians from the Luba and Lulua ethnic groups", destroying entire villages and shooting, burning and hacking to death villagers, among them babies and young children.

Since last September, the armed followers of tribal chief Kamwina Nsapu - who was killed a month earlier - have rebelled against the authority of the central government.

Figures collated by the Roman Catholic Church in a report dated June 19 show violence in the Kasai region has killed more than 3,300 people in eight months - a casualty figure far higher than the "more than 400 dead" given by the UN peacekeeping mission in April.

On Tuesday, Zeid accused "various actors" in the conflict of "fuelling ethnic hatred, resulting in extremely grave, widespread and apparently planned attacks against the civilian population in the Kasais".

The Human Rights Council is due to vote later this week on a resolution tabled by the European Union and backed on Tuesday by a number of countries including the United States to create an independent, international investigation.

Congolese Human Rights Minister Marie-Ange Mushobekwa-Likulia told the council on Tuesday the government would allow UN investigators to help a national probe into the abuses, insisting it was the Kamwina Nsapu rebels who were committing "true human slaughter" in the Kasai.

Source: News agencies