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Two men go on trial in DR Congo for UN experts’ murders

UN troops in DRC

Kinshasa, DR Congo | AFP |  A man and a teenager went on trial in a military court in Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday, accused of killing two UN experts in March, their lawyer said.

Evariste Ilunga, a 16-year-old student, and Mbayi Kabasele, 30, who sells palm oil, are being tried for war crimes, including murder and mutilation, as well as terrorism and taking part in an insurrection, their lawyer Tresor Kabangu told AFP.

They appeared before the Kananga military court for the start of the trial which was then postponed to June 12 on the prosecutor’s request, Kabangu added.

In a case that has drawn international attention, American Michael Sharp and Swedish-Chilean Zaida Catalan were kidnapped March 12 while investigating mass graves in the restive Kasai region, where hundreds of people have died in months of vi9violence.

Their bodies were found only 16 days later and Catalan had been decapitated, though her head was never found.

The UN in May raised questions about the county’s 10-week probe into the murders, saying it appeared to have been concluded in haste.

DR Congo’s justice department said last month that 16 people were involved in the killing.

Monday’s prosecution request for a delay came after the defence questioned the court’s legitimacy to judge war crimes, according to Kabangu. He said their imprisonment was “illegitimate.”

The trial opened 48 hours after President Joseph Kabila made his first official visit to Kasai, where violence erupted eight months ago.

Some 400 people have been killed and 1.3 million displaced in Kasai, according to the UN, since government forces in September killed Kamwina Nsapu, a tribal chief and militia leader who had rebelled against Kabila.

Last week, a group of international and local aid groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called on the UN Human Rights Council to open an urgent inquiry into the violence.

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