Civilians displaced by fighting camp out near the eastern Congolese city of Goma on July 31, 2012.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says it has received reports of new rounds of massacres in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay said in a statement issued on Wednesday that preliminary findings indicate that a large number of people had been massacred in Masisi region in North Kivu province since early August, AFP reported.
She said that the investigations, which are still being verified by four fact-finding missions, “suggest that a significant number of people -- most of them women and children -- were slaughtered” in the region near the border with Rwanda.
“The sheer viciousness of these murders is beyond comprehension. In some cases, the attacks against civilians may constitute crimes against humanity," the UN official added.
Dozens of victims and witnesses were interviewed and more than 45 attacks on almost 30 villages and towns in the province were recorded as part of the UN investigations.
According to the UN, some of the attacks had been conducted by two rival armed groups dubbed Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and Raia Mutumboki, which have taken advantage of the security vacuum caused by the March 23 movement (M23) mutiny.
The M23 rebel fighters allegedly have ties with the Rwandan government. However, Rwandan President Paul Kagame denies that his government is backing the M23 rebels.
The rebels defected from the Congolese army in April in protest over alleged mistreatment in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC).
They had previously been integrated into the Congolese army under a peace deal signed in 2009. The mutiny is being led by General Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on a charge of recruiting child soldiers.
On August 18, the 15 member states of the Southern African Development Community denounced Rwanda for backing rebel groups in the east of the DRC, saying Rwandan "interference" in the eastern Congo has threatened regional peace and stability.
The DRC recently asked the UN peacekeeping mission in the country to eliminate rebel groups in the east of the country.
Since early May, as many as 200,000 civilians have fled their homes. Most of them have resettled inside Congo, but tens of thousands have crossed into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
Congo has faced numerous problems over the past few decades, such as grinding poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and a war in the east of the country that has dragged on for over a decade and left over 5.5 million people dead.