By Joe Bavier
KINSHASA, May 29 (Reuters) - Stone-throwing crowds turned back for a second day on Tuesday a U.N. team sent to investigate the massacre of at least 18 villagers by suspected Rwandan rebels in eastern Congo, U.N. officials said.
The team was trying to reach three villages in troubled South Kivu province where sleeping villagers were clubbed or hacked to death during attacks which began late on Saturday.
A dozen people were kidnapped and 23 injured in the incidents, which took place at Kanyola, 50 km (30 miles) west of the provincial capital Bukavu.
"The population didn't want to let them through. The same happened yesterday," said Kemal Saiki, spokesman for the 17,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUC).
An armed escort of Pakistani peacekeepers was eventually allowed to pass, but U.N. civilian staff were forced to return to base in Bukavu.
"There were barricades on the roads. There were angry crowds. Kids were throwing stones. They had to make a U-turn," said one U.N. official, who asked not to be identified.
According to notes left behind at the scene of the massacre, a faction of a Rwandan rebel group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), carried out the killings in retaliation for Congolese army operations against them.
The faction, known as "the Rastas", vowed to come back. The Hutu-dominated rebel group has terrorised villagers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since they were expelled from neighbouring Rwanda after the 1994 genocide there.
Peacekeepers intervened on Sunday to stop an attack on the third village, but local officials said anger at the United Nations' failure to protect the population was growing.
Kanyola and the nearby Nindja forest regularly witness violent attacks by local militia and rebels, despite the official end of a 1998-2003 war which killed some 4 million Congolese, mainly through hunger and disease.
MONUC deployed four mobile operations bases to the area in an effort to boost security but withdrew two of them just weeks ago. It now plans to redeploy the mobile bases and its peacekeepers were supporting Congolese efforts to track down those responsible for the attacks and free the hostages.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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