KINSHASA (Reuters) - Government soldiers raped 14 women over a three-day period in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the human rights office of the U.N. mission in Congo said in a report on Wednesday.
The atrocities were committed in the Kalehe territory of South Kivu province between Sept. 20 and 22 as Congolese troops searched for a rebel leader, the report said.
They are part of a pattern of sexual violence in eastern Congo, a region where dozens of armed groups operate and millions died, mainly from hunger and disease, during a war between 1998 and 2003.
Human rights groups have accused both government and rebel forces of using rape as a weapon of war.
The director of the U.N.'s Joint Human Rights Office, Jose Maria Aranaz, said the incident was the worst registered this year involving Congolese forces.
But he said he was encouraged by the government's response after his office brought the matter to its attention this week and confident that authorities would stick to their expressed zero-tolerance policy on sexual violence.
A military court in the eastern province of Maniema convicted a high-ranking police officer last month over crimes against humanity, including rape, committed by his unit in 2012. Authorities have increased the number of prosecutions of sexual violence in recent years, but convictions remain rare.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende said he was not aware of the specific charges in the report but accused the U.N. office of maligning Congo by publicly airing the information instead of presenting it to judicial authorities.
(Reporting by Aaron Ross; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Andrew Roche)