KINSHASA, DRC - The attorney general of the Democratic Republic of the Congo opened an investigation Tuesday into a former government minister's alleged sponsorship of militia violence in the Kasai region. The move follows a newspaper report that two slain U.N. experts were probing the former minister's involvement.
Congolese Attorney General Flory Numbi said Tuesday that he was investigating Parliament member Clement Kanku, who was development minister until he lost his job in a government reorganization last week.
Possible charges against Kanku include participation in an insurrectional movement, assassination, arson, malicious destruction and associating with criminals.
If Kanku is charged, Numbi said he would request that Congo's National Assembly lift Kanku's parliamentary immunity.
The investigation follows a New York Times report that Zaida Catalan, one of two U.N. experts killed in March in Congo's Kasai region, had obtained a recording of a telephone conversation between Kanku and an alleged member of a militia known as Kamwina Nsapu.
The call reportedly took place last August, as the militia began an insurrection against the government. In the recording, the Times reports, Kanku can be heard speaking positively about the militia burning down a town and asking if rebels have killed the bodyguards of a colonel in the Congolese military.
According to the Times article, Catalan had informed Kanku that she was in possession of the recording before she and her American colleague, Michael Sharp, were killed. On April 24, the Congolese government showed reporters a grainy video of Sharp and Catalan being killed by men it claimed were members of the Kamwina Nsapu militia.
The government did not disclose how it obtained the footage.
Kanku attempted to hold a news conference at a Kinshasa restaurant Tuesday afternoon, but about 20 policemen prevented him from addressing reporters. Later, at his private residence, Kanku and his lawyer spoke to the press.
Kanku denied involvement in the criminal activities, saying he was dismayed by the allegations.
Kanku's lawyer, Aime Kilolo, said it would be premature to confirm whether or not the recording is authentic, but noted his client's name was not explicitly cited in the audio.
The conflict between the Kamwina Nsapu militia and the government is now in its 10th month. The armed group has been condemned for recruiting children, while the military has been criticized for its disproportionate use of force.
At least 400 civilians have been killed and more than 1.2 million people have been displaced by the fighting.