Three bodies – including those of a male and female Caucasian – have been found in Congo’s Kasai-Central province, the government said on Tuesday, and are suspected to be those of UN staff who disappeared two weeks ago.
American Michael Sharp, Swede Zaida Catalan, interpreter Betu Tshintela, driver Isaac Kabuayi, and two motorcycle drivers went missing in the DRC’s restive province on March 12.
The UN researchers were reportedly looking into recent large-scale violence and alleged human rights violations by the Congolese army and local militia groups.
“The provincial police commissioner has just returned from the area where the bodies of two UN researchers were found,” government spokesman Lambert Mende told AFP news agency.
“It’s now a certainty. It is the two investigators. We identified the third body in the grave with them as their Congolese interpreter,” Mende was also quoted as saying by Reuters.
He said one of the bodies, that of a woman, had been beheaded.
A UN spokesman in New York said the United Nations was analysing the remains and could not confirm the identities of the dead as yet.
Sharp’s father wrote on his Facebook page on Monday that the bodies of two Caucasians were found in shallow graves.
“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,” John Sharp posted.
“Dental records and DNA samples will be used to confirm the identities. This will take some time. All other words fail me.”
The disappearance is the first time UN experts have been reported missing in DRC, Human Rights Watch said.
Parts of DRC, particularly the east, have experienced insecurity for decades, but violence in the Kasai region in central Congo represents a new expansion of tensions.
The Kamwina Nsapu militia has been fighting security forces since last year, with the violence increasing after security forces killed the militia’s leader in August.
More than 400 people have been killed and more than 200,000 displaced since then, according to the UN.
The UN has almost 19,000 troops deployed in DRC, its largest and costliest peacekeeping mission.
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