updated 1/19/2011 3:12:45 PM ET 2011-01-19T20:12:45

A former rebel commander integrated as a colonel into the Congolese army has been arrested in the rapes of dozens of women in volatile eastern Congo on New Year's Day, the United Nations reported Wednesday.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid also reported that the number of people who have come forward to report being raped has risen to 50, from 13 a week ago. That number could rise as more survivors emerge from the bush to which they fled.

  1. Only on NBCNews.com
    1. OWN via Getty Images
      From belief to betrayal: How America fell for Armstrong
    2. pool via Reuters file
      US to Syria neighbors: Be ready to act on WMDs
    3. China: One-child policy is here to stay
    4. NRA: Practice Range
      New 'Practice Range' shooter game says it’s from NRA
    5. 'Gifted' priest indicted in crystal meth case
    6. AFP - Getty Images
      China's state media admits to air pollution crisis
    7. AFP - Getty Images
      French to send 1,000 more troops to Mali

Lt. Col. Kibibi Mutware has been identified by some victims and witnesses as the commander of the punitive mass rapes against residents of Fizi town. Seven other soldiers were also arrested.

The incident started after one of his soldiers was killed in a dispute over a woman, according to the U.N. The area long has been a hotbed of rivalry between the majority Babembe people and so-called Banyamulenge of Rwandan origin or Congolese belonging to the Tutsi tribe.

The soldiers' involvement is the latest outrage in the Central African nation's epidemic of rape, which has become a weapon of war used to break down family and community structures. Such attacks also drive residents from areas that fighters — both in the army and from the many rebel groups operating in the east — want to use for mining, which provides income and fuels the conflict.

Murwana was identified as a former commander in the Tutsi-led CNDP rebel movement that swept across large swaths of eastern Congo at the end of 2008 until a peace agreement was signed in January 2009. The rebels were speedily integrated into a national army that has become a conglomeration of numerous rebel groups and militias along with mutinous soldiers. Congo endured back-to-back civil and regional wars that erupted in the aftermath of neighboring Rwanda's 1994 genocide and ended in 2002.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments