KIBATI, Congo — Rebels and pro-government militiamen executed civilians this week in two waves of terror that the top U.N envoy to Congo said Saturday amount to war crimes — highlighting the inability of undermanned U.N. peacekeepers to protect civilians.
Meanwhile, Congo's army advanced toward rebel lines Saturday, with renewed fighting near the provincial capital of Goma threatening a fragile cease-fire.
Fighting broke out Friday near Kibati, about 6 miles north of Goma. By Saturday morning the army had moved more than a half-mile north into a no-man's land that had been unpatrolled since the rebels called a cease-fire 10 days ago after routing the army.
U.N. envoy Alan Doss said "war crimes that we cannot tolerate" were committed at Kiwanja, by rebel leader Laurent Nkunda's fighters and by Mai Mai militiamen supporting the government.
U.N. investigators on Friday visited 11 graves containing what villagers said were 26 bodies, said U.N. spokeswoman Sylvie van den Wildenberg. New York-based Human Rights Watch said the death toll could be higher.
"We are getting reports of more than 50 dead, but we are still in the process of confirming that information," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, a researcher with Human Rights Watch.
U.N. peacekeepers have a well-established base in Kiwanja, about 50 miles north of Goma, but it has only 120 soldiers in the town of between 30,000 and 50,000.
They were pinned down under crossfire some of the first day of the killings, Nov. 4, and were hampered because militiamen were hiding in houses among civilians, said military spokesman Col. Jean-Paul Dietrich.
Peacekeepers also were trying to deter rebel attacks on two other nearby towns, Nyanzale and Kikuku, on Nov. 5 when the killings in Kiwanja continued, he said.
"It's very difficult to protect thousands of civilians, especially at night," Dietrich said.
Doss told a news conference, "Sadly we can't protect every person in the Kivus (provinces)."