By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Two top U.N. officials urged the Security Council on Tuesday to consider sanctions against the rebel masterminds of what they said appeared to be organized mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Deputy U.N. peacekeeping chief Atul Khare told the 15-nation Security Council during a meeting on Congo that over 500 people were raped, some of them children, in July and August in the North and South Kivu provinces of eastern Congo -- 10 of them by the Congolese government's own FARDC forces.
The United Nations said last week its MONUSCO peacekeeping force in the Congo found at least 242 people had been raped over the course of several days in late July and early August in the town of Luvungi, near a U.N. camp at Kibua in North Kivu. [ID:nN01144214]
Khare and U.N. special envoy on sexual violence Margot Wallstrom suggested Rwandan Hutu FDLR rebel leaders might be among those responsible for organizing the Luvungi rapes.
"I would recommend ... for consideration by the (Security) Council, imposition of targeted sanctions on the leaders of the FDLR, both within and outside the country, if a chain of command is proven," Khare said.
Seven years after a 1998-2003 war that claimed more than 5 million lives, Congo is still plagued by insecurity, with Rwandan Hutu and local Mai Mai militias at large in its mineral-rich east and the brutal Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebels active in the north.
Mai Mai and FDLR rebels occupied Luvungi from July 30 to Aug. 3.
Wallstrom supported the idea of the council blacklisting any rebel leaders involved in the mass rapes, which she said appeared to be "part of a planned and organized attack."
"What is particularly disturbing is that the attacks ... were not an isolated incident but part of a broader pattern of widespread and systematic rape and pillage," she said.
UN: 'WE ALSO FAILED'
Khare told reporters rape been a serious problem for years in Congo, with some 15,000 rapes per year in 2008 and 2009 -- a daily average of some 45 rapes.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told reporters the violence was "outrageous," adding that Washington would support imposing U.N. sanctions on anyone found to have been responsible for the rapes.
She added that the council would keep up the pressure on Kinshasa to make sure its own FARDC soldiers did not rape.
Turkish Ambassador Ertugrul Apakan, president of the Security Council this month, said council members had urged the Congolese government to immediately launch an inquiry to determine who was responsible for the violence.
Kinshasa's U.N. ambassador, Atoki Ileka, told council members sanctions on individual FDLR members would have no impact on rebels in the forests of eastern Congo.
MONUSCO said initially it was informed of the Luvungi mass rapes nearly two weeks after they happened, even though it had a base just 20 miles (30 km) from the scene. That surprised the Security Council, which suggested MONUSCO improve communication with locals.
U.N. officials have since said the force had information of multiple rapes within days.
Khare acknowledged the U.N. blue helmets did not do enough to prevent the rapes and said they would increase their patrols and take other measures to prevent them in the future.
"While the primary responsibility for protection of civilians lies with the state, its national army and police force, clearly we have also failed," he said.
"Our actions were not adequate, resulting in unacceptable brutalization of the population of the villages in the area. We must do better," Khare said.
MONUSCO, Khare said, launched an operation last Wednesday to protect civilians and provide "security cover" for Congolese authorities to hunt down and apprehend those behind the recent violence. He said the operation had already led to the capture or surrender of nearly three dozen FDLR rebels. (Editing by Peter Cooney and Todd Eastham)