UNITED NATIONS -  Military authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo have suspended 12 senior army officers, as they investigate mass rapes that occurred in the eastern town of Minova late last year.

The move comes after the United Nations warned the Congolese government that it would suspend all cooperation with the units suspected of being involved in the rapes of 126 women. The rapes happened as the army escaped to Minova while fleeing M23 rebels who had seized the capital of North Kivu province, Goma. Women in Minova reported being attacked by men in army uniforms.

U.N. peacekeeping spokesman Andre-Michel Essoungou said Friday that the United Nations welcomes the steps the Congolese authorities have taken.

“They have made several arrests, and equally important, they have suspended commanding officers of the two main battalions allegedly involved in these violations. They also have suspended eight other commanding officers of various units that allegedly were involved in these serious violations of human rights.”

Essoungou said the government told the United Nations that it has been conducting investigations and has recorded some 400 victims, witnesses and suspect testimonies.

Human rights groups repeatedly have highlighted the problem of rape in volatile eastern Congo, where the army has battled militia and rebel groups for years. Activists have dubbed the area the "rape capital of the world," and neither the U.N. nor the Congolese government has made much progress toward changing that label.

The U.N. mission in Congo, MONUSCO, said in a statement that the suspensions of the commanding officers are an important signal of the commitment of the Congolese authorities to hold perpetrators accountable. The mission said it would continue to monitor the judicial process.