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Congo rebels accused of mass rape

About 100 women attacked in villages near Fizi in Democratic Republic of Congo, according to Médecins sans Frontières

At least 60 women were raped and dozens of other people beaten by suspected rebels during a two-day attack on a pair of villages in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo earlier this month, according to an aid agency and local officials.

The mass rape occurred in Abala and Nyakiele, near the town of Fizi in South Kivu province, during 10-12 June , Médecins sans Frontières said on Thursday.

MSF sent a team to the area this week after hearing reports of sexual violence in the villages, which are in a relatively remote area with no mobile phone coverage.

"We have seen at this point over 100 cases of people who reported being raped or suffering other incidents of physical trauma," said Megan Hunter, head of the MSF mission in South Kivu, speaking by phone from Congo.

The attacks have been blamed on a group of up to 200 former rebels who had been integrated in the Congolese army before deserting earlier this month, the UN-backed Radio Okapi said.

In February, nine soldiers from the same army unit were convicted of raping more than 60 women in Fizi on New Year's Day.

A provincial parliamentarian, Jean Marie Ngoma, told Radio Okapi that at least 60 women had been raped in the latest attack, a figure Hunter said "was not an exaggeration" based on her team's observations.

Ngoma alleged that the raid was committed by former fighters from the Pareco rebel group, under the command of Colonel Kifaru Niragiye, all of whom deserted the Congolese army earlier this month in protest against changes in the local military command.

"These men looted health centres, phones, goats, property of the population and also forced some people to carry their luggage," Ngoma said.

"But the worst case is that of mass rapes they have committed in Nyakiele. The information I have from reliable sources speaks of more than 60 women raped by the troops. People are in total despair."

Kifaru was the commander of the local military sector when the New Year's Day rapes occurred in Fizi.

His deputy, Lieutenant-Colonel Kibibi Mutware, was found guilty of crimes against humanity related to the attack and sentenced to 20 years in jail.

The UN peacekeeping mission, Monusco, said it was investigating the reports of the latest mass rape. Peacekeepers and representatives of several aid agencies are expected to visit the affected villages on Friday.

The eastern part of Congo, which has suffered from war and instability since the early 1990s, has an extremely high incidence of sexual violence.

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