UNITED NATIONS - MORE than 15,000 rapes were committed last year in a strife-torn region of Democratic Republic of Congo where peacekeepers are unable to fully protect civilians, a top UN official said on Friday.

With accusations now being made against DR Congo government troops over new cases of raping and killing in the east of the country, the head of the UN force, Roger Meece, said 'the scale of the problem is enormous'.

The chief of the UN Mission in DR Congo, MONUSCO, appeared before the UN Security Council the day after a UN envoy said government troops were attacking women and killing in the same villages where mass rapes were reported in July and August.

Mr Meece was unable to give details of the new attacks but said: 'The best data available, for example, suggests that over 15,000 rapes were committed last year in eastern DRC.'

Armed groups operate over a wide area and often mix with the civilian population, he added.

'In this vast area - larger than the size of Afghanistan - it is not possible for MONUSCO to ensure full protection for all civilians. To approach this goal would require vastly greater force levels and resources,' Mr Meece told the Security Council.

15,000 rapes in DR Congo