Trial over UN experts killing resumes in DR Congo


The trial of more than two dozen people, including a former intelligence agency informant, suspected in the killings of two UN sanctions monitors last year in central Congo resumed after a 10-month suspension, defence lawyers said.

Zaida Catalan, a Swede, and Michael Sharp, an American, were killed in March 2017 while investigating armed conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kasai region between government forces and local Kamuina Nsapu militia.

Congo’s government blamed their kidnapping and killing on the militia but some Western governments and rights groups suspect state officials may have been involved as Catalan and Sharp were conducting investigations in an area where the United Nations accused Congo’s military of war crimes.

Congolese government officials initially said no state agents were involved in the killings and they did not know at the time the experts were in the region. They later said they could not exclude the possibility state agents were involved.

Among 13 defendants in court on Monday in Kananga were suspected militia leaders Constantin Tshidime Bulabula and Vincent Manga, arrested earlier this year, Bulabula’s lawyer Tresor Kabangu told Reuters.

Kabangu said Bulabula denies wrongdoing. Manga’s lawyer, Moise Bidua, also denies the accusations against him.

Another dozen defendants are scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday to be identified, Kabangu said, including his client Jose Tshibuabua, arrested late last year.

Reuters and Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported in December Tshibuabua was working as an informant for Congo’s national intelligence agency (ANR) when he helped Sharp and Catalan organise their trip to Bunkonde. Kabangu says Tshibuabua denies any wrongdoing.

According to phone logs in the Congolese prosecutor’s file reviewed by Reuters and RFI, Tshibuabua exchanged dozens of text messages with a local ANR boss in the days before and after Sharp and Catalan were killed.

Congo’s top ANR official, Kalev Mutond, said Tshibuabua repeatedly assured him during interrogation he had not informed ANR officials about contact with the UN monitors and suggested Tshibuabua was acting on behalf of the militia.

The trial began in June last year. It was suspended in October pending the arrival of a team of UN experts to assist the investigation.

The experts complain Congolese security officials interfere with their work, including by not granting access to key witnesses. Swedish prosecutors working the case also say Congolese authorities are not co-operative.

Congo denies the accusations and says its justice system is conducting an impartial investigation.

Conflict in previously peaceful Kasai erupted in August 2016 when Congolese forces killed a local chief demanding their withdrawal from the region.

According to a UN report in June, both state forces and the militia committed atrocities that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity during the year-long conflict, in which up to 5,000 people died.