The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known as MONUC, confirmed on Wednesday that rebel groups in the northeast of the country had been engaging in acts of cannibalism.
"The rebels forced people to consume body parts of their family members," Patricia Tome, MONUC's director of information, said.
MONUC said it had received witness reports of rebels belonging to the Mouvement de liberation du Congo (MLC) and its ally, the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie-National (RCD-N), being involved in cannibalism and forcible cannibalism in Mambasa and Mangina, respectively situated 50 and 70 km northwest of Beni.
A preliminary report, which has been forwarded to the UN Security Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, cites 117 cases of arbitrary execution, 65 of rape, including child rape, 82 cases of abduction either for sexual purposes or work, and 27 of torture.
"There were horrifying things in the report concerning cannibalism, such as babies whose hearts were torn out and taken away or given to someone to eat, of small children who were killed, mutilated, and of people who were executed in front of their families," Tome said.
Witnesses told MONUC that soldiers belonging to MLC, RCD-N and the Union du peuple congolais had looted property, committed systematic rape, summary executions, and been involved in kidnappings in an operation called "clean the blackboard [effacer le tableau]".
The summary executions were perpetrated primarily among the Nande in Mambasa, the pygmies, and populations in villages around Mambasa and Beni.
MONUC sent a team of investigators to North Kivu and Ituri District on 31 December 2002, to investigate allegations of serious human rights abuses committed during the MLC and RCD-N occupation of Mambasa between 12 and 29 October, their return there on 29 November, and advances made around Beni. A total of 368 victims and witnesses were interviewed, MONUC said in a communique. The total number of victims remains unclear.
The head of MLC, Jean-Pierre Bemba, announced on Tuesday the arrest of five members of his rebel group accused of crimes in Mambasa. Bemba has assured MONUC that he will cooperate with investigations.