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Bodies found of two UN experts in DRC amid spiralling violence

UN efforts in DRC and Central Africa being undermined. Security council set to vote on extending its peace mission in the region. Photo: UN Mission in the Central African Republic

Kinshasa, DR Congo | AFP | Two foreign UN experts who were kidnapped in DR Congo have been found dead, one of them decapitated, the government said Tuesday, as spiralling violence in the vast country sparked international condemnation.

The bodies of American Michael Sharp and Swedish national Zahida Catalan were found as the UN Security Council prepares to vote on Wednesday on extending its peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“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.

The two were kidnapped by unidentified assailants on March 12 along with four Congolese accompanying them in Kasai-Central province.

Mende said the woman’s body had been decapitated.

The remote region has been plagued by violence since mid-August, when government forces killed Kamwina Nsapu, a tribal chief and militia leader who had rebelled against President Joseph Kabila’s central government.

The violence has spilled over from Kasai to the neighbouring provinces of Kasai-Oriental and Lomami, leaving at least 400 people dead.

Several days before the two UN experts were kidnapped, a Uruguayan peacekeeper was shot and injured in the same region.

Sharp’s father, John Sharp, reacted to the news on his Facebook page.

“We have been informed that two Caucasian bodies have been found in shallow graves in the search area, one male and one female.

“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.”

There was no immediate reaction to the news from the UN mission to DR Congo known as MONUSCO.

– 39 police officers killed –

On Monday, Congolese national police accused rebels of massacring 39 of their officers in Kasai.

The victims were killed in an “ambush” early Friday as they were travelling in trucks, and buried in a mass grave by supporters of late militia leader Kamwina Nsapu, a police spokesman said.

Jordan Anderson, Africa analyst for IHS Markit, cited reports that all 39 had been beheaded.

The Kamwina Nsapu militia “is increasingly taking violent and hostile action against anyone it sees as being outsiders, interfering in the Kasai,” he said .

The United Nations, European Union and African Union on Tuesday expressed “grave concern” over the spiralling violence in Kasai.

The organisations “condemn this despicable act and express their condolences to the families of the victims,” they said.

They called for an “urgent response from the country’s political leaders” to curb the violence and “urge the defence and security forces to exercise restraint in the efforts to restore order in the Kasai.”

The latest violence comes ahead of a UN Security Council vote on Wednesday on extending its mission in the DR Congo, the largest and costliest UN peacekeeping mission in the world.

The UN has 19,000 soldiers, police and military observers deployed in the mission, costing $1.2 billion annually.

About 100 of those troops were recently dispatched to the Kasai region.

– ‘Playing with fire’ –

France warned last week that drastic cuts to the mission would be tantamount to “playing with fire” as the country is also embroiled in election turmoil.

France has circulated a draft resolution to renew the mandate of the peacekeeping mission, but is facing scrutiny from the United States which is seeking cuts to UN peace operations.

The influential Catholic Church in DR Congo brokered a deal in late December to pave the way for elections by the end of 2017, but the agreement has been bogged down in disputes over the appointment of a new prime minister.

Elections would bring an end to the rule of Kabila, in power since 2001.

The Church and the electoral commission said earlier this month that the growing unrest in Kasai threatens to derail voter registration.

Police reinforcements meanwhile were sent to strategic points in the capital Kinshasa on Tuesday after clashes between demonstrators and officers in several districts, where tyres were burned and roads blocked.

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