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Doubts Persist About Mass Grave in DRC

The body of a elderly woman is shown to the press at Kinshasa central morgue, on April 13, 2015, where the local governement organized a visit to highlight the need for mass graves after more than 420 bodies were discovered 100 km outside Kinshasa.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, authorities have given foreign observers a tour of the biggest morgue in Kinshasa, to try to dispel any doubts about the official explanation for a mass grave found near the city.

Many Congolese still seem to be mystified by what they hear about the mass grave that was dug at night near Kinshasa this month. Authorities said the 421 bodies buried there on March 19 were those of 300 stillborn babies and fetuses, 57 abandoned and destitute people and 64 unidentified people.

The government said an investigation is underway but has rejected calls for the bodies to be exhumed, or for international experts to help with the investigation.

Opposition politicians said the grave was used to dispose of corpses of people killed during three days of anti-government protests in Kinshasa in January. The government denies this.

Jose Makila of the opposition MLC party said he knows that security forces shot at MLC supporters at point blank range, and he has no hesitation in saying that some of those supporters were buried in the mass grave.

But so far the opposition has not presented the public with a list of names of people they think were buried there.

The International Human Rights Federation, or FIDH, based in France, said it believes at least 42 people died in the protests in January. Their bodies have been accounted for.

FIDH researcher Florent Geel told VOA there could be several dozen other people who disappeared during those protests, but for the moment his organization has no exact figure for fatalities or missing people, apart from the 42 that they know are dead.

Many people have been asking why authorities needed to bury so many bodies in a mass grave, given the nuisance to local residents, who were not informed in advance.

In response, authorities gave foreign and local journalists a guided tour of the biggest morgue on Kinshasa, pointing out what they said were 178 unidentified bodies. A spokesman for the ruling coalition, Alain-Andre Atoundou Liongo, recommended this visit to a talk show presenter this week.

Go to the morgue and smell the nauseating odor there because of the overcrowding, he said, adding that when the authorities, in desperation, decided to empty part of the morgue, people with ill intent turned this into a big problem.

Some have questioned how so many people came to be abandoned or unidentified.

"Have they thought how many street boys there are in Kinshasa?" Atoundou asked in response. "And what happens when a street boy dies?"

A journalist with an opposition newspaper, Le Phare, who went to the morgue, said the visitors were so overwhelmed by the choking disinfectant in the air that they did not stay to conduct an inspection.

A civil society researcher in North Kivu, Djento Maundu, told VOA that it is hard to believe large numbers of protestors were buried in the mass grave, as there were not many reports of people who disappeared after the demonstrations.

But FIDH's Geel said his organization regularly hears of missing people in Congo, and is investigating disappearances in the months before and after the protests.