THE bodies of two United Nations investigators have been discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo with their local interpreter after they disappeared amidst a violent uprising.
Swedish national Zaida Catalan and American Michael Sharp went missing on March 12 while looking into widescale violence and alleged human rights violations by the Congolese army and local militia groups.
They had travelled to the Kasai Central region with interpreter Betu Tshintela, driver Isaac Kabuayi and two motorbike riders.
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Government spokesman Lambert Mende said tests confirmed bodies found by villagers are those of the UN workers and Tshintela.
Mede said: “After tests... it is possible to identify the bodies as the two UN experts and their interpreter as being found near the Moyo river.”
The find came days after around 40 police officers were decapitated in an ambush in the area and investigations will continue to find their missing Congolese colleagues.
WHY WERE THEY THERE?
THE experts were part of a group monitoring the impact of a sanctions regime imposed on the country by the UN Security Council.
Their deaths come as fears grow that problems caused by the president’s delayed handover of power could overwhelm the country.
Parts of DRC Congo have experienced insecurity for decades, particularly in the east, but violence in the central Kasai provinces proves tensions are rising and reaching further than before.
The Kamwina Nsapu militia has been fighting security forces since last year, with the violence increasing after troops killed the militia’s leader in August.
The UN says more than 400 people have been killed and an estimated 200,000 have been displaced since then.
Centred in the Kasai Central region, Kamwina Nsapu includes large numbers of child soldiers and their leader, a traditional chief who has since been killed, called for an uprising last summer in a bid to push state and security forces from the region.
It now has a presence in five provinces and is an increasingly serious threat to the country’s president Joseph Kabila, whose term was supposed to end in December.
A political transition pact mediated by Catholic bishops was signed on December 31, but Kabila has still not left office and the religious leaders have now pulled out of talks between Kabila’s allies and opponents, citing their inability to give ground.
WHO IS KABILA?
THE politician has led the country since the assassination of his father Laurent in 2001. The elder man over threw military dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, but was killed by one of his bodyguards.
Since taking charge, the younger man has tackled continuous unrest and critics accuse him of becoming wealthy while disregarding the needs of the public.
Millions have died from hunger, malnutrition and disease since the late 1990s, when Mobutu was ousted, and almost half of the 69.6 million strong population lives in poverty.
The UN retains a presence in the most trouble parts of the country, which has seen groups from all sides exploit its vast mineral resources.
On its role in attempting to ease Kabila out of office and ensure a smooth transition for the country, Donatien Nshole of bishop’s organisation CENCO told Reuters: “We think that there’s no longer anything to do. We have given all our time and all our energy.”
Responding, UDPS, the leading opposition party, called for Congolese people to rise up at home and abroad, saying: “I call on the Congolese people to mobilise themselves for a big peaceful march throughout the republic and the diaspora. I call on our millions of supporters to resist the dictatorship taking root in our country.”
However, Kabila is standing firm, with a statement issued via the media insisting talks will continue and “the current impasse must in no way signify a definitive rupture of the dialogue”.
WHO IS BEHIND THE UN TEAM’S DEATHS?
ACCORDING to the Congolese government, the answer is “negative forces”.
Their loss marks the first time UN officials have been reported missing in the country, as well as the first recorded disappearance of overseas workers in the Kasai region.
Emilie Serralta, former coordinator of the UN Congo group, defended the decision to place them there, saying: “Going to places where few people go, asking questions that few people ask, finding out the truth, this is the work of United Nations experts. This is how the reports and recommendations [aiding] the security council are written.”
Charles Bisengimana, Congo’s police inspector general, said the bodies had been discovered between the cities of Tshimbulu and provincial capital Kananga.
His statement came one day after Michael Sharp’s father John revealed bodies had been found in shallow graves, adding: “Since no other Caucasians have been reported missing in that region, there is a high probability that these are the bodies of MJ and Zaida. Dental records and DNA samples will be used to confirm the identities. This will take some time. All other words fail me.”
UN secretary general Farhan Haq said the agency aims to continue its work there, stating: “We hope that we could continue to send experts to do their necessary monitoring activities wherever they need to go.
“Of course, that needs to be undertaken with full respect and understanding of the security condition on the ground.”