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Congo Confirms New Massacres in Katanga - 2004-02-25

New massacres have been confirmed in the Democratic Republic of Congo's southeastern province of Katanga, where militiamen roam beyond the control of Congolese military forces and U.N. troops. The killings have been done in a particularly brutal fashion.

Congolese military officials confirm that about 100 civilians and seven military officers in this southeastern province have been brutally slaughtered by rampant peasant Mai Mai warriors since January.

The killings near the town of Kitenge, some 700 kilometers north of the provincial capital Lubumbashi, highlight the challenges for nearly 11,000 U.N. peacekeeping troops deployed largely in the country's lawless east.

Violence in the east has persisted, even though Congo's five-year war was officially declared over in July of last year. Rebel groups were brought into a power-sharing government, which is to shepherd the giant country to elections in two years' time.

General Alengbia Nzambe, Katanga's military commander based in Lubumbashi, confirmed the recent killings. He estimated at least 100 people have been killed.

Local officials from Kitenge town confirmed that at least 43 bodies have been recovered from the attacks since January, but added they believe many more bodies are still in surrounding villages and bushlands.

General Nzambe says the killings in Kitenge have largely been perpetrated by men belonging to a Mai Mai group led by a man known as General "Chinja Chinja," literally translated as "The Ripper," who led troops hostile to the previous government during Congo's war. The general and civilians who fled Kitenge say many of the bodies were severely mutilated and disemboweled, with their bodies drained for their blood.

Congolese military officials say that "Chinja Chinja" is the last remaining militia leader in the area who is still not willing to integrate into the new Congolese army. Tensions within his group, and with other militias backed by the previous government, have led to the series of attacks against civilians. Officials say the militiamen are armed with machetes, spears, poison arrows and guns.

Congolese military officials in Lubumbashi say they are preparing a mission to neutralize Chinja Chinja in the far reaches of Katanga province.

Officials from the U.N. mission in Congo confirm that they are aware of the situation. U.N. officials have promised to try to deploy beyond their current area, but so far have not been able to do so.