KINSHASA — Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda said Thursday that they were "in no way involved" in mass rapes reported in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The FDLR are "in no way involved in these odious actions and takes umbrage at the baseless accusations launched against them by the secretary-general of the United Nations," Ban Ki-moon, the rebel movement's executive secretary Callixte Mbarushimana said in a statement from Paris.
The United Nations on Monday reported that at least 179 women and children had been raped in recent weeks in villages of the Nord-Kivu province of the DR Congo, where the Rwandan rebels are active.
Ban expressed outrage over the rapes, which his spokesman Martin Nesirky said were committed during attacks by the Mai-Mai tribal militia and the FDLR, which has been based in eastern DR Congo since after the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
"This is another grave example of both the level of sexual violence and the insecurity that continue to plague the DRC," Nesirky said on Tuesday.
But Mbarushimana said that "The FDLR raises serious questions on the real motives that led the high authority of the UN to rush to incriminate them before even carrying out a preliminary inquiry into these odious acts."
Because of the seriousness of the incident, Nesirky said, Ban has decided to send Atul Khare, his Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, to the DR Congo.
Ban's special representative for issues involving sexual violence, Margot Wallstroem, has been put in charge of the UN response to the incident.
The FDLR on Thursday urged the United Nations to "set up without delay an independent international commission tasked with shedding full light on all these criminal acts" saying it was ready to "collaborate with this commission" and with Ban's envoy Khare.
Members of the FDLR are accused by Rwanda of taking part in the genocide 16 years ago, in which 800,000 people were killed, mainly members of the Tutsi minority, before the extremists fled into the DR Congo when Tutsi-led forces took power in Kigali.
Rape is a weapon of war used against civilians in eastern DR Congo, where assaults on villagers are frequently reported and blamed on a range of armed movements, including the DR Congo's regular army, the FARDC.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, at least 1,244 women reported being raped in the first quarter of 2010, which makes "almost 14 rapes per day on average".
More than a third of these rapes took place in the unstable border provinces of Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu, bordering on Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, where armed groups have been accused of a range of atrocities for more than a decade.
The United States on Wednesday said it was "deeply concerned" about the reports of mass rape and would work with the local government and the United Nations to bring the culprits to justice.
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