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Congolese Rebel Leader Rejects Reports of Atrocities

U.N. investigators say they have confirmed reports that rebel groups in northeastern Congo are committing atrocities, including cannibalism, against civilians in the area.

The U.N. investigating team says it interviewed nearly 370 people in villages near Beni and Butembo in northeastern Congo. Fresh fighting between Ugandan-backed rebel factions and government forces has displaced more than 100,000 people during the past several months in that region.

The fighting has continued despite a peace deal signed in December to end Congo's nearly five-year-old war. The investigators say the villagers gave horrific accounts of looting, raping, kidnapping, and killing by two rebel groups, the Congolese Liberation Movement and the Congolese Rally for Democracy-National.

In addition, the team says it verified reports of rebel soldiers mutilating and eating forest-dwelling Pygmies. The investigators say some soldiers have even forced Pygmies to eat their own family members. Pygmies are hunter-gatherers, who are believed to be one of the earliest inhabitants of central Africa.

The leader of the Congolese Liberation Movement, Jean-Pierre Bemba, rejected claims that his men have engaged in cannibalism.

In an interview, Tuesday, with the French news agency, Agence France Presse, Mr. Bemba said his men could not commit such an atrocity, but acknowledged that some of them may have killed civilians. He says one officer has already been arrested in connection with the murders of four villagers last month in the northeastern town of Mambasa.

The U.N. team has presented its findings to the U.N. Security Council in New York and to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. It is not known what measures will be taken to deal with the crimes in eastern Congo.