Villagers in Democratic Republic of Congo discovered the remains of two UN investigators and their Congolese interpreter who went missing in an area engulfed in a violent uprising, a government spokesman said.
Michael Sharp, a US citizen, and Zaida Catalan, a Swedish national, had been part of a group of experts monitoring a sanctions regime imposed on Congo by the UN Security Council when they disappeared in Kasai Central province.
In a statement UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres confirmed the remains of the two investigators missing since March 12 had been found and said the world body would conduct an inquiry.
Villagers found the bodies of two Caucasians and a Congolese not far from where the experts group vanished, according to government.
Police informed the authorities in Kinshasa on Monday and a team including the provincial police commissioner went to the scene to identify the bodies.
“It’s now a certainty. It is the two investigators. We identified the third body in the grave with them as their Congolese interpreter,” Communications Minister Lambert Mende told Reuters.
John Sharp, the father of Michael, posted on his Facebook page that the bodies of two Caucasians were found in a shallow grave, saying there was a “high probability” it was the UN officials.
“This is a message I hoped never to write,” he wrote, adding DNA tests and dental records would be used to confirm the identities.
Guterres said the United Nations would co-operate with Congolese authorities in searching for the four Congolese nationals who accompanied the UN officials.
“In case of criminal acts, the United Nations will do everything possible to ensure that justice is done,” the UN chief said.
The Swedish Foreign Ministry said it would not comment on the incident as it was being handled by the United Nations.
Congo’s Kasai Central region is the epicentre of the Kamuina Nsapu insurgency that has now spread to five provinces in the loosely governed Central African country.
The Kinshasa government said earlier this month the two UN officials had fallen into the hands of unidentified “negative forces” along with four Congolese who were with them near Ngombe in Kasai Central.
“Going to places where few people go, asking questions few people ask, finding out the truth, this is the work of United Nations experts,” said Emilie Serralta, a former co-ordinator of the UN Congo group. “This is how the reports and recommendations guiding the Security Council are written.”
Kamuina Nsapu militants pose an increasingly serious threat to President Joseph Kabila, whose decision to stay on beyond the end of his elected mandate last December has sent ripples of unrest across the country.
UN figures indicate more than 400 people have been killed in violence with militants blamed for atrocities and government forces accused of targeting civilians.