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UN Opens Investigation into Recent DRC Massacre - 2003-04-15

A team of human rights experts from the United Nations is going Wednesday to the Democratic Republic of Congo to begin an investigation into the massacre of almost 1,000 people earlier this month in Ituri Province.

A spokesman for the U.N. human rights agency, Jose Dias, said the team of 15 human rights experts will travel to the town of Drodro and surrounding villages in Ituri Province where the massacre occurred.

A preliminary U.N. investigation into the attacks found that 966 people, mainly from the Hema community, were killed in a pre-dawn attack on the Roman Catholic mission in Drodro and surrounding villages by rival Lendu on April 3.

Mr. Dias said conditions in the area are very hard and that the U.N. investigators have a lot of work ahead of them. "They are not going to be able to be able to do everything in a week. They are going to try to ascertain some facts. As you know, there have been reports of 1,000 people killed. Then there are reports of fewer people killed. They will try to get the facts: How many people actually were killed; where this happened; where are the mass graves if there are mass graves," Mr. Dias said.

The International Rescue Committee estimates that, since 1998, up to three million people have been killed in eastern Congo because of fighting among rival rebel groups.

Human rights organizations say civilians throughout the region, and in particular in Ituri province, are victims of widespread, systematic abuse including rape, torture and executions.