, UNITED NATIONS, Sep 2 – UN peacekeepers said Wednesday they have stepped up patrols in a region of the Democratic Republic of Congo where the number of mass rape victims has increased to more than 240.
The UN mission has faced strong criticism over the lack of action to prevent the rapes in a conflict-stricken eastern province of the African nation.
The peacekeeping mission said in a statement it has launched Operation Shop Window "with the aim of reassuring the population and showing its commitment to use all resources to carry out its protection mandate."
Peacekeepers have been sent to each of the villages where rapes were reported and extra helicopter patrols have been launched, said a UN Stabilization Mission in DR Congo (MONUSCO) statement.
The mission said though that it has now been told of more than 240 rapes of women around the town of Kibua in Nord Kivu province. It had previously said there were 179 rapes and added even the new figure was likely to increase as aid groups speak to women in the region.
The United Nations has accused Hutu rebels from neighboring Rwanda and local Mai-Mai militia of carrying out the rapes between July 30 and August 3.
The UN mission said there were new reports of violence since then, including houses looted and about 50 people kidnapped at the small town of Mubi. Two DR Congo soldiers were killed in the attacks and seven civilians wounded, the UN mission statement said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sent a top UN peacekeeping official to DR Congo to investigate the rapes and the UN response, which has been criticized by UN Security Council members.
Atul Khare, assistant secretary general for peacekeeping operations, is to report to Ban and the UN Security Council on his return to New York next week.