- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2008

KIBATI, Congo | Rebels and militiamen who fought each other in an eastern Congolese town last week committed war crimes by executing civilians, Congo’s top U.N. envoy said Saturday. An independent human rights group said it believes dozens of people were killed.

The United Nations made the accusation as the Congolese army advanced toward rebel lines in renewed fighting near the provincial capital, Goma, in a move that threatens a fragile rebel-called cease-fire.

Fighting broke out Friday near Kibati, about six miles north of Goma. By Saturday morning, the army had moved more than half a mile north into a no-man’s land that had been unpatrolled since the rebels called a cease-fire 10 days ago after routing the army.

In Goma, U.N. and independent investigators said rebel leader Laurent Nkunda’s forces and a pro-government militia committed summary executions as they killed civilians in their homes last week in Kiwanja, 48 miles north of Goma.

Alan Doss, the United Nations’ top official in Congo, said the fighters carried out “war crimes that we cannot tolerate.”

U.N. investigators on Friday visited 11 graves containing what villagers said were 26 bodies, said U.N. spokeswoman Sylvie van den Wildenberg. New York-based Human Rights Watch said the death toll could be higher.

“We are getting reports of more than 50 dead, but we are still in the process of confirming that information,” Anneke Van Woudenberg, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, told the Associated Press.

Rebel soldiers said Thursday that they killed 60 people in the village but said they were all combatants, even though many were not in uniform.

Miss Van den Wildenberg said it appeared that the rebels committed many more executions than the militia did.

U.N. officials say residents suffered two waves of terror. First the Mai Mai militia came in and killed people whom it accused of supporting the rebels; then the rebels won control and killed those they charged had supported the militia.

Residents told the Associated Press that the rebels killed many of their victims execution-style with bullets to the head. Some residents said the rebels then dressed the dead, most of them young men, in military uniforms.

More than 250,000 people have been forced from their homes since Mr. Nkunda went on the offensive Aug. 28 and captured large swaths of eastern Congo as the army retreated.

The conflict is fueled by ethnic hatred left over from the 1994 slaughter of a half-million Tutsis in Rwanda. Mr. Nkunda says he is fighting to protect minority Tutsis from Rwandan Hutu rebels who participated in the genocide and then fled to Congo.

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