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UN Envoy Visits DRC Massacre Site - 2003-04-09

U.N. officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo say the death toll from last week's alleged massacre of villagers by ethnic militias is much lower than what was earlier reported.

The top official of the U.N. Mission in Congo, Berhooz Sadry traveled to the scene of the alleged massacre in Congo's northeastern Ituri district this week. After doing a survey, he told a U.N.-operated radio station that the number of estimated dead is between 150 and 300.

U.N. officials had earlier quoted witnesses as saying that 966 people had been killed during a three-hour raid by ethnic militias last week on the town of Drodro.

Mr. Sadry said some of the wounded had been erroneously counted among the dead.

The killings occurred in the early hours of last Thursday. Witnesses said, scores of young men descended on Drodro and attacked men, women, and children with guns and machetes.

Investigators have found a number of mass graves, along with traces of blood and torn garments.

They say it will be impossible to know exactly how many were killed until the bodies are exhumed.

The Ituri district has long been the scene of clashes between rival ethnic Lendus and Hemas. The fighting has traditionally been triggered by land disputes, but has intensified since the start of Congo's civil war in 1998.

Calls have been growing worldwide for those responsible for the massacre to be brought to justice.

At the Vatican, Pope John Paul II urged leaders in the region to promote reconciliation. He said reports of massacres and summary executions in Congo were no less worrisome than the news of destruction and deaths in Iraq.