The leader of the Mouvement pour la liberation du Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, has promised stiff penalties against any of his fighters discovered to have been involved in human rights abuses.
"If my troops are clearly involved in war crimes, there will be no impunity. Soldiers found guilty could even face the death penalty," he told reporters on Thursday in Gbadolite, Equateur Province, after a meeting with Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel.
A team from the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), known as MONUC, is investigating reports of cannibalism and human rights violations committed by rebels near Beni, North Kivu Province.
"I am deeply shocked by these allegations," Bemba told IRIN. "That's why on 31 December 2002, I personally wrote to Namanga Ngongi [head of MONUC] to ask for an UN investigation into these matters, along with our own investigation."
MONUC is due to submit its preliminary report to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello, who is scheduled to visit DRC next week.
Bemba said his military chief present in the area, Freddy Galimo, had been placed under house arrest in Gbadolite. Some NGOs and civilians have accused him of committing or ordering human rights violations.
Fighting between the MLC and their Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie-National (RCD-N) allies against the RCD-Kisangani-Mouvement de liberation (RCD-K-ML) of Mbusa Nyamwisi led to the capture on 12 October 2002 of Mambasa, 142 km northwest of Beni.
The RCD-K-ML took the city on 31 October, but it was retaken again by the Armee de liberation du Congo, which is the military wing of the MLC, 27 November. On 30 December, the three rebel movements signed a UN sponsored ceasefire accord in Gbadolite.
MONUC's chief of public information, Patricia Tome, said in the DRC capital, Kinshasa, that 80,000 to 120,000 people had been displaced throughout the area, She said Mbusa Nyamwisi, the leader of the RCD-K-ML, had also promised to hunt down those guilty of human rights violations.