|More than 400,000 women and girls were raped in the conflict-ravaged country between 2006 and 2007 [EPA]|
The UN says it is sending a team to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to investigate allegations of rape.
The French aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF, has said that more than 100 people in Niakiele village, in Sud-Kivu province, were raped or beaten in an attack which took place between June 10 and 12.
“We have a UN inter-agency mission going tomorrow into the area, one of the key tasks of the human rights component is to verify these allegations of rape,” Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman at the UN human rights office, told the AFP on Thursday.
“We received these allegations but we need to go on the ground to confirm them before we can share anything.”
Megan Hunter, head of the Dutch branch of MSF in Sud-Kivu province, said: “We have certainly treated over 100 women who say they have been raped or are suffering trauma.”
She did not say who might be responsible. However, she said that MSF is working with Congolese health officials to get more information.
Jean-Marie Ngoma, a provincial parliamentarian, blamed the assaults on “soldiers from the Congolese army”, headed by an officer named as Colonel Niragire Kifaru, who is a former member of the Mai Mai tribal militia.
Ngoma said that more than 60 women in the village were raped.
The UN-backed Radio Okapi said the attacks have been blamed on a group of about 200 rebels who had been integrated into the DRC army before deserting this month.
The resource-rich eastern DRC is an unstable area marked by violence blamed largely on the presence of the army and a host of militia and rebel groups.
High incidence of rape
Colonel Vianney Kazarama, spokesman for the DRC armed forces [FARDC] in Sud-Kivu province, denied that Colonel Kifaru was involved in the rapes.
“This is false, he never committed an infraction. There are Mai Mai militia in the zone, and also [rebels of] the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).”
The FARDC spokesmanadmitted that Kifaru had deserted and “taken to the bush, because he wanted troops [being integrated into the regular army] to be taken into consideration, because they had no water and nothing to eat.”
The Congolese army is training several regiments in Sud-Kivu and Nord-Kivu provinces, after several local armed groups were integrated into military ranks.
This process of integration began after a regional war devastated the DRC between 1998 and 2003 and the new army lacks training and discipline.
The vast central African country has a high incidence of rape, with a study released in May saying more than 1,000 women were raped every day.
More than 400,000 women and girls between the ages of 15 to 49 were raped in the conflict-ravaged country during a 12-month period in 2006 and 2007, according to the study published in the American Journal of Public Health.