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Congo promises action on mass rapes in eastern town - U.N

MYT 11:55:02 PM

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Democratic Republic of Congo has promised to bring a group of suspected mass rapists to justice after the United Nations last month threatened to halt support to two Congolese army battalions, the world body said on Tuesday.

The United Nations said 126 women were raped in Minova in November after Congolese troops fled to the town as so-called M23 rebels briefly captured the nearby provincial capital of Goma.

The U.N. special envoy to Congo, Roger Meece, told Congolese authorities in a March 25 letter they had seven days to take action on the rapes. This came after earlier demands by the United Nations for Congolese authorities to prosecute the suspected rapists went unheeded.

"MONUSCO notes that assurances have been received recently from various DRC (Congo) officials - including from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Raymond Tshibanda - that justice will follow its course on this matter," said U.N. peacekeeping spokesman Andre-Michel Essoungou.

He added that the U.N. force in Congo was "aware of a number of appropriate actions reportedly taken by the Congolese Government, in relation to the 126 alleged cases of sexual abuse that occurred in Minova, North Kivu, in late November 2012."

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, has a mandate to protect civilians and supports operations by the Congolese army. There are more than 17,000 troops in Congo, a country the size of Western Europe.

"The mission is in close contact with the Government of the DRC and is expecting an official response, in the coming days, to its various communications on this issue," the spokesman said.

The United Nations had previously told Congo that it would end support to two battalions linked to the Minova rapes if it did not try the soldiers involved.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said in December that human rights abuses were reported in and around Minova between November 20 and November 30, including the 126 rapes and the killing of two civilians. Nesirky said at the time that two soldiers were charged with rape, while seven more were charged with looting.

Peacekeepers have been stretched thin by the M23 rebellion in the resource-rich east of Congo. The U.N. Security Council last week created a special intervention force, which one senior council diplomat has said will be able to "search and destroy" the M23 rebels and other armed groups in the country.

M23 began taking parts of eastern Congo early last year, accusing the government of failing to honour a 2009 peace deal. That deal ended a previous rebellion and led to the rebels' integration into the army, but they have since deserted.

M23, which a U.N. expert panel said last year was backed by Rwanda, has struggled with infighting in recent weeks.

African leaders signed a U.N.-mediated accord in February aimed at ending two decades of conflict in eastern Congo and paving the way for the intervention force approved last week.

(Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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