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UN Accuses Congolese Government of Ethnic-based Massacres

FILE - Human skulls are seen on the roadside in Tshienke near Kananga, the capital of Kasai-central province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, March 12, 2017.

A new U.N. report accuses the government in the Democratic Republic of Congo of instigating ethnic-based massacres in the diamond-rich Kasai province. The findings are based on interviews with 96 people who fled to neighboring Angola to escape the violence.

A U.N. investigative team was deployed to Angola for several days in June after the government of President Joseph Kabila rejected a call by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights for a credible, transparent investigation into the Kasai crisis involving the Kamuina Nsapu militia.

The chief of the high commissioner's Central and West Africa section, Scott Campbell, says investigators heard accounts of atrocities on a massive scale. He says many of the people interviewed bore visible traces of violent abuse, including amputated limbs, scars, mutilations and disfigurement caused by machetes.

"Over a three-month period between March and June of this year, what our team found was that at least 251 people were killed in a fairly limited part of the Kasai region of the Kamonia territory, including a large number of children," Campbell said. "There were 62 children killed among the 251 that our team was able to document ... many of them were under 8 years old."

Witnesses say they increasingly are being targeted because of their ethnic group. Campbell warns that ethnic cleansing, possibly on a large scale, appears to be taking place. Investigators have received credible evidence about the government's complicity in these acts, he told VOA.

"We have noted — and what we think is very important — is that the testimonies that we have gotten we find are very credible, and point to a nature and a scale of acts that could amount to crimes against humanity," Campbell said.

The Kamuina Nsapu militia instigated a rebellion against the state following the killing of their traditional chief last year by Congolese forces. Campbell says the militia has committed many serious crimes, including targeted killings, and uses boys and girls as young as seven as fighters against the state. He says these violations could constitute crimes against humanity.

Campbell tells VOA he fears the chaos, disruption and insecurity in Kasai could be used as an excuse for postponing elections that are to be held this year. "Our concern is that this could be manipulated for a postponement of elections, which could then lead to further human rights violations," he said.