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“How could they protect commercial goods, but they could not protect the people?” Mr. Masudi asked.

The peacekeepers stayed long enough to arrest a Mai-Mai militiaman accused of trying to steal a motorcycle. But the village people did not make any reports of what had happened in the preceding days, Mr. Meece said.

The patrol also stopped in another village, Bunya Mumpire, from which aid workers reported many rapes. Mr. Meece said people there wanted to fight the militiamen with the peacekeepers, but again did not report that they were under attack.

It’s unclear what means of communication were available to the peacekeepers, who often travel without interpreters and generally do not speak the Kiswahili, French or Kinyarwanda spoken in the region.

On Aug. 4, the local chief came to Walikale and reported that the rebels had left and that large numbers of people had been raped. He spoke to Mr. Masudi’s organization, the International Medical Corps, the U.N. office in Walikale and to civilian authorities, Mr. Masudi said.

On Aug. 5, a convoy including medical corps workers and Mr. Masudi’s organization drove to Luvungi and the extent of the horrors began to unfold, as raped women began coming out of the forest.

Miel Hendrickson, regional director of the Los Angeles-based International Medical Corps, says her group briefed officials at the Walikale office of the U.N. Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs when they returned from their first trip to Luvungi the night of Aug. 6.

“We told them the area had been attacked, that there had been no fighting and no deaths, but raping and looting,” she says.

Mr. Meece, the top U.N. envoy in Congo, said U.N. peacekeepers in the area did not learn about the rape and looting spree until Aug. 12 from the International Medical Corps. Two U.N. officials in Kinshasa told the Associated Press that they got first word from media reports, even though the U.N.’s small civil affairs office in Walikale is charged with protecting civilians.

The United Nations did not send a team until Aug. 13, according to Mr. Reece.

The number of people treated went up from a couple of dozen on Aug. 5, to 154 by Aug. 16, 172 the following week and 242 by last Wednesday, Ms. Hendrickson said.

Congo’s government has seized on past failures by U.N. peacekeepers to call for the withdrawal of the force, the biggest in the world at about 18,000. U.N. officials say soldiers are hampered by mountainous and rugged terrain and are sparsely deployed across a country the size of Western Europe.

But aid workers say there is a well-graded dirt road from the U.N. camp at Kibua to Luvungi, and from Walikale to Luvungi.

Congo’s army and U.N. peacekeepers have been unable to defeat the few thousand rebels responsible for the long, drawn-out conflict in eastern Congo, which is fueled by the area’s massive mineral reserves.

Maj. Sylvain Ikenge, a spokesman for army operations in eastern Congo, would not say why soldiers had withdrawn from the area, allowing rebels to move in, only that they “are now concentrated around Walikale to concentrate our efforts to track down the rebels.”

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