KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo, Feb. 25 (UPI) -- Rebels in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo are believed to be responsible for a new rash of rapes in the area, U.N. officials said Friday.
Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesman for the United Nations, said more than 40 people have been sexually assaulted in recent weeks with the victims including men and children as well as women, The New York Times reported. In some cases, the attacks were on groups of people walking home from the market.
Giuliano called rape a "plague, a pandemic" in the African nation.
"It is used by belligerent parties against civilians, as a weapon of war," Giuliano said. "Most of the rapes are committed by opposition groups, and while we call on all to respect civilians, only an end to the conflict can realistically end their plight."
The national army has also committed rape in the area. Lt. Col. Kibi Mutware was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his part in a series of attacks.