Rebels and pro-government militia have killed at least 20 civilians in recent fighting, Human Rights Watch said, on the eve of a regional summit on the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"The rebels of Laurent Nkunda and the pro-government Mai Mai militia have deliberately killed civilians," caught up in the fighting in Kiwanja, in the troubled eastern Nord-Kivu province, the rights watchdog said in a statement on Thursday.
The news came regional leaders headed to the Kenyan capital Nairobi ahead of an emergency summit today on the crisis, which will also be attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Human Rights Watch said at least 20 people had been killed and 33 others wounded in the battle for the control of Kiwanja and during ensuing mop-up operations by Nkunda's troops.
One of the fatalities was Congolese journalist Alfred Nzonzo Bitwahiki who works for local radio station Radio Racou, said the HRW statement, quoting witnesses.
Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) fought the Mai Mai at Kiwanja, about 80 kms north of Nord-Kivu's regional capital Goma, on Tuesday and Wednesday.
After retaking control, "Nkunda's rebels ordered the 30,000 residents to leave the town and then systematically hunted down and killed civilians, mainly men, for backing their enemies," HRW said.
"Kiwanja residents said they heard screams during the night and saw bodies in the street the next morning."
AFP journalists saw 12 bodies lying in the streets and houses on Thursday afternoon.