The U.S. has praised Congo for securing the conviction of a colonel and eight other military personnel for carrying out mass rapes.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called Monday's conviction of Lt. Col. Mutuare Daniel Kibibi and the others a "significant milestone" in a country where sexual violence is endemic.

The court of military judges was paid for partly by U.S. legal aid agencies.

Forty-nine women — from a newlywed to a white-haired grandmother — testified and relayed horrifying tales of being gang-raped and beaten by Congolese soldiers.

Crowley said the government's prosecution of the men sent the message that no one is allowed to commit such horrific crimes.

He said Wednesday that ending impunity for rape was important for bringing peace and stability to eastern Congo.