More than 5,000 cases of rape reported in South Kivu province in six months.
The United Nations has suspended some of its support to the army in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), saying some soldiers have taken part in the deliberate killing of civilians.
Alain Le Roy, the UN peacekeeping chief, said “civilians have been clearly targeted in attacks by certain elements” of the Congolese army.
“We have decided that Monuc [the UN peacekeeping mission] will immediately suspend its logistical and operational support to the army units implicated in these killings,” he told the UN-sponsored Radio Okapi on Monday.
Le Roy referred to the killings of at least 62 civilians between May and September in the Nord-Kivu province, where the army is fighting Rwandan fighters.
Congo’s government said an investigation into the killings was ongoing and that the withdrawal of support could destabilise the army.
“We are surprised that the United Nations has announced sanctions against these units even before the conclusion of their investigation,” Lambert Mende, Congo’s information minister, said.
Madnodge Mounoubai, a Monuc spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that the UN would activate an already existing commission to further investigate the killings.
“We hope that by taking those measures we put on notice all the other soldiers about what could happen if those killings continue.
“We cannot make the blanket statement that the Congolese army is killing civilians. Some units, some elements of the Congolese army, are responsible for those violations.”
The UN has been providing assistance to the army in the eastern DRC since March, following a joint Rwandan and Congolese military operation against Rwandan militias.
Human rights groups have complained of abuses by soldiers and a high number of civilians caught up in the offensives.
More than 1,000 civilians are said to have been killed, more than 7,000 women and girls raped, and more than 900,000 people forced to flee their homes since operations began in January.
Eastern DRC has been wracked by violence since neighbouring Rwanda’s 1994 genocide spilled war across the border. Hutu militias that participated in the massacres of more than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus sought refuge in the DRC.