Kinshasa: The United Nations has said that nearly 900 people lost their lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo last month due to ethnic strife. It said that 15 communal burial sites and 43 single graves have been found near the town of Yumbi.
Florence Marchal, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in Congo, also known as MONUSCO, confirmed the claims with The New York Times, adding that a fact-finding team sent to the region had unearthed the burial sites.
“If you walk along the main road (in Yumbi) you see the graves,” she remarked. However, the exact figure of the dead is yet to be established by MONUSCO.
The region is no stranger to ethnic flare-ups between the Bununu and Batende groups. In fact, reports claim that violence had broken out between the two factions last month in the run-up to the Presidential elections on December 30.
“According to allegations from credible sources, at least 890 people were killed between 16 and 18 December in four villages in Yumbi territory, Mai-Ndombe province in the west of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in what appear to have been clashes between the Banunu and Batende communities,” the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner had stated previously on January 16.
The director of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office in Kinshasa, Abdoul Aziz Thioye, told The New York Times that local Red Cross workers and family members, who had fled the violence at its outset, had dug the graves.
“Very often when you talk about mass graves, everyone has in mind people who have been summarily executed and thrown into a hole, which was not the case here,” he noted.
On the one hand, authorities are unclear about the perpetrators of the mass killings. On the other, Marchal believes that the violence may have escalated from a dispute regarding the burial of a local chieftain.
“Definitely there was a certain level of organization (in the killings),” Thioye added.
The clashes in Yumbi have left several homes burned and has forced scores of residents to flee towards Brazzaville, in the neighbouring Republic of Congo.