The UN Security Council has demanded that efforts be stepped up to prevent a repeat of the reported mass rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) a few weeks ago.
Council members on Thursday voiced open dissatisfaction at the late response of UN peacekeepers in the country, blaming the weak reporting line at the ground level.
Earlier this week a UN human rights team reported that at least 154 civilians were raped and assaulted by rebels from the FDLR and Congolese Mai Mai who occupied the town of Luvungi from July 30 to August 3.
UN forces in DR Congo have said they were only informed of the incident more than a week after it happened, even though they had a base just 30 kilometres from the scene in the country's violent east.
The council suggested in a statement that the 20,000-strong UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in DR Congo (Monusco) peacekeeping force needed at least to improve its communications with the local population.
The statement issued after an unscheduled meeting called by the United States and France "demanded that all possible steps should be taken to prevent such outrages in the future" and called on DR Congo to bring the culprits to justice.
A DR Congo government spokesman in Kinasha said on Thursday the country's security forces need more on-the-ground support from the international community to prevent future attacks.
Following the reported rapes Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, sent Atul Khare, a senior aide and deputy peacekeeping chief, on a fact-finding mission to Congo.
The 15-member council said it expected to hear from Khare "what more could be done to ensure more effective protection of civilians".
Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador presiding over the council this month, said they wanted "a very serious, sober evaluation ... of what happened and why" when Khare returned to New York on September 8.
On Wednesday Roger Meece, a senior UN envoy in DRC, announced plans to improve communications and prevent any recurrence of sexual violence in the country, including a proposal to have villages report to the UN's forward operating base at Kibua every day.
UN officials have said they only heard of the rapes from aid group International Medical Corps (IMC) on August 12, and then sent protection and fact-finding teams.
|FDLR rebels said they were "in no way involved" in the recent mass rapes [EPA]
They blamed a roadblock by rebels for their failure to find out sooner.
But the New York Times on Thursday quoted the IMC as saying it first notified UN workers of the rapes on August 6.
John Holmes, the UN humanitarian chief, said his Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs "was informed by IMC locally ... that there had been some kind of incident in that area. I don't know whether it was the sixth of August".
"We were aware, not while it was happening, certainly, but at some point after that, and obviously we were very concerned and started to express our concern about it at that stage," he added.
Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, said she raised ways of improving communications in Thursday's debate, suggesting radios and satellite phones could be used, though she said she did not know how feasible they were.
Guy Momat, a Congolese journalist, criticised Monusco saying the reported violence "is not the first" such incident that occurred close to the UN base.
"Do you remember in 2008, in November, there, 150 Congolese [were] killed in Kiwanja province, and it was just a mile away from the Monusco camp," he told Al Jazeera.
"The Monusco is there, it is a big force, but if you see the situation on the field, we can say this is a failure, nothing happened, people, civilian people, are not protected and they [Monusco] don't have a proper mandate."
Meanwhile the leader of the FDLR, one of the groups accused of carrying out the mass rapes, denied any involvement and wants an independent commission to investigate the attacks.
The FDLR is "in no way involved in these odious actions and takes umbrage at the baseless accusations launched against them by [Ban Ki-moon] the secretary-general of the United Nations", Callixte Mbarushimana, the group's executive secretary, said in a statement from Paris on Thursday.
Mbarushimana said: "The FDLR raises serious questions on the real motives that led the high authority of the UN to rush to incriminate them before even carrying out a preliminary inquiry into these odious acts."
The group urged the UN to "set up without delay an independent international commission tasked with shedding full light on all these criminal acts", saying it was ready to "collaborate with this commission" with Khare.