Congo Rapes: At Least 121 Women Assaulted By Troops Last Month, Says U.N.

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GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. human rights investigators have confirmed that at least 121 women were raped by Congolese troops who attacked and looted villages in the lawless east last month, a United Nations spokesman said on Friday.

The mass rapes were reported to the team in interviews with victims, police and medical personnel, he said.

"(U.N. human rights staff) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has confirmed that large-scale rape, pillaging, and cruel and degrading treatment were committed in Nakiele, in South Kivu province between the 11th and 13th of June by troops of the armed forces," spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing.

Referring to the interviews, he added: "According to their statements, the troops raped 121 women, stole 157 goats and looted other goods including some $90,000 in cash and gold."

A spokesman for Congo's government has said that Colonel Kifaru Niragiye may have been behind the rapes after he and around 100 men deserted from a training camp where they were due to be integrated into the army.

The U.N. refugee agency said on June 24 that up to 170 women had been raped -- the largest reported mass rape in the turbulent central African country in nearly a year.

Colville noted that the number of rapes are often underestimated. "Because of course with rape you always have the issue of how many women are prepared to come forward and say it happened. The fact that they are giving a number means they are fairly sure this is a minimum number," he said.

"More in-depth investigations will be undertaken to further verify these allegations and details and facts and to identify the perpetrators," he said.

A second mission is planned to Nakiele in the coming days.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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