The United Nations accuses “elements” of the Congolese army of digging most of the mass graves identified in the insurrection-ravaged Kasai region of central Democratic Republic of Congo.
A report by the UN Joint Human Rights Office in Congo (UNJHRO) is the first time the United Nations has directly suggested government forces dug the graves.
Congo’s human rights minister was not immediately available for comment but government has repeatedly denied its troops were responsible for dozens of mass graves discovered since the Kamuina Nsapu militia launched an insurrection last August and called for the departure of government forces from the area.
“As of June 30, 2017, UNJHRO had identified 42 mass graves in the three provinces of Kasai, most of which would have been dug by Congolese army elements following clashes with presumed militia members,” the report said.
Earlier this month, the UNJHRO said it had identified 38 more probable mass graves in western Kasai, bringing the total to 80.
More than 3,000 people have been killed and 1.4 million displaced in the violence, part of growing unrest since President Joseph Kabila refused to step down when his mandate expired in December.
The violence triggered fears of wider conflict in the large central African country, a tinderbox of ethnic rivalry and competing claims over mineral resources. Millions died in civil wars between 1996-2003, mostly from hunger and disease.
Government blames the militia for the mass graves and also claimed some sites identified by UN investigators do not contain bodies.
It also denies UN allegations that its troops systematically used excessive force, although a court convicted seven soldiers this month for murdering suspected militia members in a massacre caught on video.
Last month, the UN Human Rights Council approved an international inquiry into the violence in Kasai. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is expected to name a team of experts to lead the probe soon.