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Activists Fear Cover-Up in DRC Bas-Congo Violence

Human rights activists in the Democratic Republic of Congo fear a cover-up is taking place in the aftermath of violence in the western Bas-Congo region earlier this year. Clashes opposed police and a now banned political religious movement. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

The head of the Congolese-based ASADHO African human rights organization, Amigo Gonde, says his group's work and testimony from residents in the Bas-Congo region indicate the existence of three mass graves. He says several dozen bodies were seen lumped together at three sites. The last mass grave to be discovered was in the town of Materne, between the cities of Boma and Matadi.

But he says last week, apparently, the bodies were dug up and moved, as part of a possible cover-up.

Residents in Materne say pieces of bodies were left behind, and that there is still a horrible odor, and they wonder if they will get sick.

Gonde says the military is guarding the two other sites, so that it is impossible to investigate the other mass graves as well. He says it is very difficult to find out how many people were killed in the unrest. He says residents say they saw many bodies floating in a nearby river as well.

The government says fewer than 30 people were killed. Officials from the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo says their findings indicate about 100 people were killed.

They say they are investigating the reports of mass graves.

Other human-rights activists say a local doctor, who had been part of an official inquiry into the violence, was replaced and harassed by authorities after he started speaking of the existence of mass graves.

Lawmakers in the capital Kinshasa have called for an independent inquiry. They have also called on the newly outlawed Bundu dia Kongo movement to dismantle its training camps, and to clarify its status before it can become legal again.

The group's spiritual leader is also an elected lawmaker, but authorities in Kinshasa say members of his group attack state targets, kill police, and chase away non-natives.

The group has also called for the restoration of the pre-colonial kingdom of Kongo, which also includes parts of Angola and Gabon. It has also set up its own tribunal system and a vigilante group called the Makesa, who are armed with whips.