Violence in DRC's Kasai taking on "disturbing ethnic dimension"

Human rights investigators say violence in Congo over three recent months could devolve into

Human rights investigators say violence in Congo over three recent months could devolve into"wider ethnic cleansing

Geneva: The UN today detailed more than 250 "extrajudicial or targeted killings" in the the Democratic Republic of Congo's Kasai region from mid-March to mid-June, counting dozens of children among the dead.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) based the report, released on Friday, on interviews in June of 96 refugees who fled Congo's Kasai provinces into neighbouring Angola.

"These included 62 children, of which 30 were aged under eight", it added, specifically accusing government agents of killing seven minors.

At least 1.3 million people have been internally displaced, and at least 40,000 have fled to Angola.

"The survivors spoke of the screams of people burned alive, and the vision of their loved ones hunted down and then slaughtered, and their own flight, so frightened", said the High commissioner for Human rights Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein.

According to Mr Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, these "blood baths are all the more terrifying as it would seem that people are always more likely to be targeted due to their ethnicity". "Their accounts should serve as a grave warning to the government of the DRC to act now to prevent such violence from tipping into wider ethnic cleansing", al-Hussein said.

"I call on the Government to take all necessary measures to fulfill its primary obligation to protect people from all ethnic backgrounds in the greater Kasai area".

A recently formed militia, Bana Mura, backed by Congolese security officials, is said to be responsible for much of the violence.

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Violence began last August with the killing of a regional tribal leader by the Kamwina Nsapu militia, after he defied President Joseph Kabila's government.

"Between March and June of this year our team documented a large number of killings, two hundred and fifty one killings of individuals, a large number of them children, sixty two were children who were killed in the context of a crisis and attacks going out on an ethnic basis but with government complicity", United Nations investigators reported.

The Bana Mura, formed among the Tshokwe, Pende and Tetela tribes, allegedly attacked Luba and Lulua inhabitants, beheading, mutilating and shooting victims - in some cases burning them alive in their homes.

Given the situation in the Kasais, the report highlights the need for the team of global experts on the situation in the Kasais, established in June by the UN Human Rights Council, to be granted safe and unrestricted access to information, sites and individuals deemed necessary for their work. Many were beheaded or burned alive, including the patients in a health centre, the report said.

The team has also collected testimonies of rape and other forms of sexual violence.

The child soldiers, comprised mostly of boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 13, are said to be highly dreaded by residents of Congo.

Scott Campbell, the rights office's chief for central and west Africa, said there were "no good and bad guys" in the crisis, and all sides needed to be held to account.

Witnesses have also reported that groups of girls, called the "Lamama", accompanied the militia in "drinking the blood of the victims, in the context of a magical ritual meant to make the group invincible".

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