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23.05.2019 Congo

DRCongo detains 25 over Yumbi massacre: minister

Many of the victims were found in mass graves.  By ALEXIS HUGUET (AFP)
MAY 23, 2019 CONGO
Many of the victims were found in mass graves. By ALEXIS HUGUET (AFP)

DR Congo authorities said Thursday they had detained 25 people in a probe into a massacre in a remote northwest region last December that left hundreds of dead.

"So far we have heard from 105 victims, 83 witnesses have appeared before the military judicial investigators and 25 alleged perpetrators have been put in preventative detention," Human Rights Minister Marie-Ange Mushobekwa said, presenting a report from a commission of inquiry.

She did not identify the suspects.

According to the UN, 535 people, including women and children, were slaughtered between December 16 and 17 in three villages in Yumbi, a territory around 300 kilometers (180 miles) north of Kinshasa.

Days passed before details emerged about the massacre, and further time elapsed before the government acknowledged local officials had played a part in the violence.

The bloodletting appeared to be rooted in longstanding intercommunal rivalry, according to preliminary UN inquiries in January.

The victims were mostly members of the Banunu community, targeted by rival Batende, who had objected to the burial site of a Banunu chief.

Mushobekwa reported "rights violations caused 461 deaths" including the administrator of Yumbi territory and three soldiers. Another 133 people were wounded by bullets, stabbing or burns, she said.

"There were administrative officials who fanned the flames and who have already been heard by the military judiciary," she said.

Provincial authorities were also to blame for failing to take measures to prevent the violence, she said.

"They sinned by omission, by negligence," she said.

After the bloodshed, the government replaced several territorial officials, including the police and intelligence chiefs, army staff and administrative personnel.

In 2009, ethnic clashes in the region forced 130,000 people to seek shelter in Republic of Congo -- which now hosts 60,000 refugees, mainly from the DRC, the Central African Republic and Rwanda.