Mass graves found in troubled DRC region

Three mass graves have been uncovered in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where a renegade general, government forces and rebel groups have clashed for weeks, a United Nations mission said on Thursday.

“We do not know the exact number of victims but there are several in each of the graves,” Sylvie van den Wildenberg, a spokesperson from Monuc, told Agence France-Presse.

It would be impossible to give a figure until the freshly dug and badly covered site at Rubare, north-west of the Nord-Kivu regional capital Goma, had been excavated, she said.

The graves were found at a base that up until September 3 had been used by Bravo brigade, a force loyal to former general Laurent Nkunda, who now leads a rebel army in Nord-Kivu.

Van den Wildenberg would not say who notified the UN mission of the find but said the information came after government troops moved in on September 6 to occupy the base.

“Monuc immediately informed the relevant Congolese judicial authorities to ask them to open an inquiry,” she said, adding that the request had been received favourably.

When UN peacekeepers entered the towns of Kishero and Katwiguru on August 18 after they were abandoned by the same Bravo brigade, they discovered six half-buried corpses with bullet wounds.

News of the grave find came at a tense time for Nord-Kivu. Insurgent soldiers loyal to Nkunda tried to take the town of Sake, near Goma last week, leading Monuc to impose a ceasefire.

The UN said Thursday that more than 50 000 people had gathered at three camps near Goma after fleeing the assault.

Patrick Lavand’Homme from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that “10 860 families have been counted around Mugunga”.

Since Nkunda agreed the truce on September 6, his forces have repeatedly clashed with rebels from the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) and local Mai-Mai militia.

He has established himself as a politico-military warlord in the rugged Nord-Kivu hills since the formal end in 2003 of a war that drew in the armies of several other African countries, including Uganda and Rwanda to the south.

Nkunda says he is protecting his own minority Tutsi population in Nord- and Sud-Kivu provinces from locally based mainly Rwandan Hutu FDLR rebels, which he has accused the Kinshasa government of backing.

Earlier this year troops loyal to Nkunda were drafted into joint brigades with regular government forces and deployed in Nord-Kivu following an accord signed by Kinshasa and the former general.

But mass defections ensued when the military command entrusted other brigades with the task of tracking down armed Rwandan Hutu rebels operating in DRC.

OCHA estimates that 305 000 people have been displaced in Nord-Kivu since December 2006.—AFP

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