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Published: Tuesday May 6, 2014 MYT 2:30:20 AM
Updated: Tuesday May 6, 2014 MYT 2:31:16 AM

Two soldiers jailed for life over Congo mass rape case

KINSHASA (Reuters) - A military court in the Democratic Republic of Congo has sentenced two soldiers to life in prison over a notorious incident of mass rape in 2012, a lawyer for the defence said on Monday.

At least 97 women and 33 girls, some as young as six, were reported to have been raped in the eastern town of Minova over two days as thousands of civilians fled fighting between Congo's ill-disciplined army and the M23 rebel group.

Lawyer Sabra Mpoy said one of the soldiers was convicted of rape and another of murder and both were dismissed from the army.

Another 24 soldiers were sentenced to between 10 and 20 years in prison for looting and disobeying orders not to leave their camp near Minova during the incident in November 2012.

However, 13 senior officers also accused in the mass trial were acquitted for lack of evidence, Mpoy said.

Following the incident, senior officers including commanders and deputy commanders of Congo's 41st and 391st battalions were suspended. The 391st battalion was trained by the United States in 2010.

Human rights groups say rape has been used as a weapon of war in eastern Congo, where more than five million people are estimated to have been killed by violence, hunger and disease during more than two decades of conflict.

The M23 rebel group captured Goma, the largest city in eastern Congo, in November 2012 but was defeated late last year by the Congolese army, with the backing of a U.N. peacekeeping brigade with a tough mandate to tackle armed groups.

(Reporting by Bienvenu-Marie Bakumanya; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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