Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila Kabange addresses the 72nd Session of the United Nations General assembly at the UN headquarters in New York on September 23, 2017. Bryan R. Smith / AFP
State employees of the Democratic Republic of Congo helped organise the mission trip of two UN experts to the central Kasai region where they were killed, according to a Reuters and Radio France Internationale (RFI) report.
The revelation that “four state agents and associates” may have been involved in the murders appears to contradict the official account by Congolese government officials, who have maintained that no state employees were involved.
Officials have also said they did not know the pair were in the area.
Zaida Catalan, a Swedish-Chilean national and American Michael Sharp were killed in March while investigating reports of more than 40 mass graves in the war-torn Kasai region.
Kasai has been in turmoil since tribal chieftain Jean-Prince Mpandi — known as the Kamwina Nsapu — was killed in August last year after rebelling against President Joseph Kabila’s regime in Kinshasa.
More than 3,000 people have died and 1.4 million have been displaced, according to the Catholic Church.
The pair were “meeting members of the Kamwina Nsapu, a local clan, on the sidelines of peace talks with the government in the city of Kananga,” Reuters’s Aaron Ross and RFI’s Sonia Rolley reported on Tuesday.
According to their report, Catalan and Sharp left the city of Kananga on March 12. Their bodies were found 15 days later. Catalan had been decapitated.
A UN report released in June described their murder as a “premeditated setup” in which state security may have been involved.
Congolese authorities have said the experts, along with four Congolese nationals accompanying them, were killed by militia members of Kamwina Nsapu.
DR Congo has charged 26 suspected members of the militia for the double murders. They are currently on trial in a military court in Kananga.
According to the media report, the prosecutor’s case file included elements on a militia chief, two opposition lawmakers, and four Congolese state agents and associates.
“Three of the state agents and associates were directly involved in the mission that cost the lives of the two experts,” the report said.
– ‘Proven, nor excluded’ –
The journalists highlighted one person who helped organise the trip, Jose Tshibuabua, who they said worked for DR Congo’s intelligence services, Agence Nationale de Renseignements (ANR), at the time.
RFI had previously reported that Bruno Tshibuabua and an interpreter had not correctly translated into French a warning by a Kamwina Nsapu healer that the two UN experts were not safe to travel to Bunkonde, where they were supposed to continue their investigation.
“It is again Jose Tshibuabua who provided the motorcycle taxis and the drivers, still reported missing, who drove the experts to Bunkonde,” they reported.
Top ANR official in Congo, Kalev Mutond, told Reuters and RFI that “Tshibuabua was working as a ‘volunteer informant’ for the agency at the time of the meeting, but did not inform ANR officials about his contacts with the two experts”.
The ANR chief also denied knowing anything about the experts’ planned trip to Bunkonde.
If the investigators “had contact with informants, it was not reported to the government,” government spokesman Lambert Mende told the journalists.
“If there is a state agent who was involved, he will be pursued and judged,” he added.
But according to Reuters and RFI, Tshibuabua and his ties to the ANR were not included in a UN board of inquiry’s confidential report to the UN Security Council or in the trial.
Meanwhile, the United Nations said Wednesday that its own investigation shows that authorities’ involvement “has been neither proven, nor excluded”.