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Rights Group Demands UN Aid Cut-Off to Congolese Army

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New York-based Human Rights Watch says the United Nations has taken the right step in suspending logistical support for a Congolese army unit accused of committing atrocities against civilians in an area of eastern Congo. The rights group is urging the United Nations to withdraw support for the Congolese government's military operation there.

The head of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo, Alain Le Roy, says he has information confirming soldiers in the Congolese army's 213th Brigade participated in the massacre of at least 62 people between May and September near a remote village in North Kivu province, about 100 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital, Goma.

Speaking to reporters late Monday, Le Roy said while U.N. support to the brigade will be suspended immediately, help .

"We have a case [where] clearly some units have behaved badly and some civilians have been killed in quite an important number. But we are not suspending our support to the Kimiya operation, not at all," he said.

For months, human rights groups have complained that thousands of civilians in eastern Congo were being raped and killed by the Congolese army while it received more than $6 million worth of U.N. military and logistical backing for its Kimiya operation to apprehend Rwandan ethnic-Hutu militiamen.

Human Rights Watch says its researchers have evidence that as many as 270 people, including many women and children, may have been hacked and beaten to death by army soldiers in the area the U.N. investigated.

One of the group's researchers, Anneke van Woudenberg, tells VOA that many killings in eastern Congo can be blamed on the Hutu rebel group, who target civilians in North and South Kivu to punish them for their government's decision to launch military operations against them. But van Woudenberg says government soldiers are also committing atrocities, including mass murder and rape.

"We welcome the steps that the U.N. has taken to suspend operations to this one brigade. But I am afraid we are documenting these kinds of atrocities, not just in this one area but in many other areas as well," she said. "And we think the U.N. now needs to immediately suspend all of its support to this military operation until abusive commanders are removed and safeguards are in place in protect civilians."

Congo Kinshasa's Information Minister Lambert Mende Omalanga told reporters his government did not know about the massacres of civilians in North Kivu. He complained the United Nations failed to share any information before suspending support to one of the army units.

But van Woudenberg says Human Right Watch recently gave the government details of their findings and have had several discussions with senior government and army officials about the group's concerns.

"We, in fact, informed the military commander in charge of operation Kimiya 2 last week, gave him detailed information about what we had documented in relation to these massacres," said van Woudenberg. "So, the Congolese government is absolutely aware that this is going on. They have not yet taken adequate steps to stop it."

Human Rights Watch estimates that since the start of the military operations against the Hutu rebels in January, more than 1,000 civilians have been killed, 7,000 women and girls have been raped and more than 6,000 homes have been burned down in eastern Congo. The group says nearly 900,000 others have been displaced and living in desperate conditions.