Kinshasa - The United Nations has signed an agreement with the Democratic Republic of Congo aimed at fighting against rape and sexual violence by armed groups in the strife-torn eastern part of the country.
The accord, seen by AFP on Tuesday, was signed by DR Congo's Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo and the UN's special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, during a visit by Bangura to the country.
In the accord, Bangura and Ponyo "expressed their concern at the persistence of sexual violence committed by armed men mostly in the east of the country".
It "underlines the necessity of neutralising armed groups and initiating an effective process of reform to the security sector" particularly in the eastern regions of North and South Kivu, and Oriental province.
Rape is widespread in DR Congo, with perpetrators including Congolese and foreign rebel groups, but also the national armed forces, which have been much criticised for their brutality against civilians and corruption.
During her visit Bangura met President Joseph Kabila, women's groups and hospital officials in North and South Kivu who assist rape victims.
Kinshasa has pledged to swiftly put in place improved security measures.
These include providing help to victims of sexual violence, avoiding integrating known criminals into the army and battling impunity by reinforcing specialised police units that deal with protecting women and children.
Internationally, efforts are being ramped up to draw attention to the violence plaguing the unstable nation, including a high-profile visit last month by American actress Angelina Jolie to highlight the cause of rape victims in war zones.
Last week the UN imposed a one-week deadline on DR Congo to take action against two army battalions accused of carrying out at least 126 rapes in November.
According to the NGO Human Rights Watch, soldiers went on a 10-day raping and looting rampage in the eastern town of Minova and nearby communities.
UN investigators subsequently found that two soldiers were arrested over the rapes but rights groups said the charges were never followed up.