At least 15 mass graves have been found in north-western Democratic Republic of Congo following ethnic bloodshed in December, a spokeswoman for MONUSCO said.
Earlier in January, the United Nations estimated at least 890 died as a result of violence, some of the worst in the area for years which highlighted the precarious state of inter-ethnic relations even in the Central African country’s more peaceful regions.
A MONUSCO special mission investigating the fighting found at least 11 mass graves and 43 individual graves around Yumbi and at least four communal graves containing at least 170 bodies in nearby Bongende, spokeswoman Florence Marchal said.
“While the conclusions of this mission are being finalised, we are able to confirm several hundred people including women and many children were killed in unbearable circumstances,” she said.
“The speed, the modus operandi and the high death toll of this violence suggests these events were planned and premeditated,” she said.
A dispute linked to a tribal chief’s burial is seen as a catalyst for fighting between the Banunu and Batende communities. It led government to cancel voting in the area for last month’s presidential election.
While the bloodshed was not directly related to the December 30 vote, a local activist told Reuters at the time tensions between the ethnic groups festered because Batende leaders were supporting the ruling coalition while Banunu leaders backed opposition candidates.
Marchal said the area was now relatively calm, but warned: “Tensions between the two communities are still evident and at risk of worsening.”
Safeguarding Congo’s fragile security situation will be one of the key tasks for President Felix Tshisekedi, sworn in on January 24 in Congo’s first transfer of power via an election in 59 years of independence.