'UN-backed Congo army guilty of atrocities'

A UN-BACKED Congolese military operation to oust rebels from eastern Congo has caused more civilian casualties than damage to the rebels - with more than 1400 people having been deliberately killed over a nine-month period, human rights groups said yesterday.

A UN-BACKED Congolese military operation to oust rebels from eastern Congo has caused more civilian casualties than damage to the rebels - with more than 1400 people having been deliberately killed over a nine-month period, human rights groups said yesterday.

Human Rights Watch said it had documented "vicious and widespread" attacks against civilians by soldiers and rebels between January and September.

Soldiers being fed and supplied with ammunition by the UN have killed civilians, gang-raped girls and cut the heads off some young men they accuse of being rebels, the groups said.

"For every rebel disarmed, one civilian has been killed, seven women have been raped, six houses have been burned and destroyed and 900 people have been forced to flee their homes," Oxfam said.

"Some victims were tied together before their throats were, according to one witness, "slit like chickens'. The majority of the victims were women, children, and the elderly."

More than 7500 cases of sexual violence against women and girls were registered at health centres during a nine-month period - nearly double that of 2008 and likely representing only a fraction of the total.

Human Rights Watch said that the 19000 peacekeepers must "immediately cease all support to the current military operation" until it can ensure there are no violations of international humanitarian law.

"The UN peacekeepers are being put in an appalling situation where they are supporting an army that is attacking its own population," it said.

The allegations come the same week the UN Security Council is to deliberate on renewing the peacekeepers' mandate. - Sapa-AP

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