UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The United Nations has given the Democratic Republic of Congo a deadline in March to act against two army battalions accused of carrying out 126 rapes in an eastern town, a UN official said Thursday.
The UN mission in DR Congo will stop working with the two battalions if action is not taken, the official told reporters. The DR Congo army relies heavily on UN peacekeepers for support in the battle with armed groups in the strife-torn east.
The 126 rapes were carried out in the North Kivu province town of Minova as army troops fled an assault by M23 rebels in November.
The troops moved to Minova after being forced out of the provincial capital of Goma on November 20. "Over the next 10 days, they went on a raping and looting rampage in Minova and neighboring communities," according to Human Rights Watch.
"We have investigated, we have identified a number of cases and we demand the Congolese authorities take legal action against those people," the UN official said, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity.
The UN official said that "notice" was given to the DR Congo government in early February that it had to take action against the two battalions which had been in Minova. "The deadline now is getting very near," the official said.
The UN said in December that its investigators had evidence of at least 126 rapes and that two soldiers had been arrested for rape and seven for looting around Minova. But rights groups say no officer has been arrested and none of the charges have been followed up.
Human Rights Watch said in a report in February that several women told their investigators that "soldiers in official army uniform forced their way into the women's homes at night, pointed guns at them, and demanded money.
"The soldiers then threatened to kill the women if they refused to have sex with the soldiers or if they screamed for help. Some of the victims were gang raped in front of their husbands and children by several soldiers operating together," said the report.
The notoriously feeble DR Congo is much criticized for its brutality against civilians and corruption. UN officials said it "melted away" during the M23 advance last year.