At least 890 people are believed to have been killed in ethnic violence in northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo last month, the United Nations human rights office said on Wednesday (January 16).
The toll doubles an estimate provided on Monday (January 14) by a local priest and a civil society activist who said that at least 400 people had been killed in bloodshed which led the government to cancel voting there in last month’s presidential election.
The population of the town was 18,000. Of those 16,000 have fled across the border to the Republic of Congo. So we are going to try to interview these people and to try to figure out exactly what happened. What we understand is that there are two communities and these were clashes that erupted between these two communities over the burial of a tribal chief. There are some allegations that there may be state officials who are complicit but we have not been able to look into these allegations yet. What we are going to do is to continue our investigation. We understand that the Congolese government has also initiated an investigation.”
“And what we are stressing is that it is very important for this investigation to be prompt and thorough and for individuals who are responsible for the violence to be held accountable. Otherwise, what will end up happening is that there will be a grow sense of injustice and anger in these communities who have suffered these violations and we are worried that this may lead to new episodes of violence which will trigger another cycle,” United Nations Human Rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said.
U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani emphasised this was only the number of people actually buried, but that reports suggest many others may have been killed.
The fighting between the Banunu and Batende communities in Mai-Ndombe province was some of the worst in the area for years.
Communal fighting and widespread pillaging around the town of Yumbi, a normally peaceful area, led to an estimated 16,000 people seeking refuge by crossing the Congo River into the Republic of Congo, Shamdasani added.
The violence broke out over a dispute linked to a tribal chief’s burial, she said.
While the bloodshed was not directly related to the end-of-year election, a local activist told Reuters in December that tensions between the two ethnic groups had festered because Batende leaders were supporting the ruling coalition while Banunu leaders backed opposition candidates.