KINSHASA - A U.N. official in the Democratic Republic of Congo has repeated calls for a dialogue to end the deadly, months-long conflict in the Kasai region of the central DRC.
“There is no solution in Kasai other than a negotiated solution,” said Mamadou Diallo, the coordinator of humanitarian affairs for the U.N.’s mission in DRC.
Diallo addressed a news conference in Kinshasa the day after DRC government spokesman Lambert Mende showed journalists grisly videos of executions he said were carried out by the Kamwina Nsapu rebels, including the murders of two U.N. experts who disappeared in Kasai in March and were later found dead.
“They [The Kamwina Nsapu] are terrorists,” Mende said. “Terrorism in the DRC must be eradicated without condition and [there is] no question of negotiating with these people,” he said.
Gruesome videos of killings
One of the videos Mende showed at the briefing, which VOA attended, appeared online in a tweet Tuesday but was quickly removed.
The spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general has condemned the government’s decision to play the videos to the media, saying in a statement that “we’re disappointed that the video was shown publicly” and that “it does harm… to the ongoing investigation.”
Mende told reporters the videos had been recorded by the rebels and obtained by the police, without providing further information.
In one, disarmed policemen sit on the ground and are interrogated by their captors. The scene then cuts away to images of decapitated bodies in police uniforms. The video purportedly showed the aftermath of an ambush of a police convoy in late March near Kananga, the capital of Kasai-Central province, when 39 policemen were beheaded.
The second video showed the final moments of two U.N. experts who went missing in Kasai-Central on March 12 and whose bodies were found several weeks later. Michael Sharp, an American, and Zaida Catalan, from Sweden, are seen walking surrounded by men wearing the red headbands associated with Kamwina Nsapu. Both are instructed to sit and soon after are shot and killed. Catalan is then decapitated.
Calls for negotiations criticized
Mende criticized those calling for a negotiated end to the conflict and the establishment of an independent investigation into the actions of both sides. His statements appear to represent a departure from what looked to be an easing of tensions earlier this month.
The conflict began in August 2016 after the customary chief to which the rebels were loyal — also called Kamwina Nsapu — was killed during clashes with the police. The violence has intensified this year. At least 400 people have been killed and one million displaced since the conflict started, according to the U.N. Initially confined to Kasai-Central, Kamwina Nsapu are now active in five provinces of central DRC. The rebels reject the authority of the central government.
However, discreet negotiations with the customary chief’s family have been taking place. In mid-April, the interior ministry said it had returned the chief’s body to his family and designated a successor. Kamwina Nsapu’s family told the media that the violence would come to an end while the interior ministry called on fighters to surrender.
On Tuesday, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator urged the government to continue the approach.
“We take note of this first gesture and this willingness to extend a hand to find a solution”, Diallo said. “We encourage the government and all local actors to continue down this road.”
The European Union, African Union and the influential Congolese Catholic Church are also calling for dialogue to end the crisis.
Mass graves found
U.N. investigators say they have found 40 mass graves in Kasai, reportedly dug by the Congolese military after bouts of fighting, and videos that appeared to show soldiers shooting civilians in Kasai have also surfaced this year. The U.N. has regularly also criticized Kamwina Nsapu for its recruitment of child soldiers.