Three mass graves have been discovered in an eastern area of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the DRC formerly controlled by a rebel warlord that has been the scene of recent clashes, the United Nations said today.
Maj. Gabriel De Brosses, a spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force in the DRC, said the graves were found on Monday in Rubare, a village about 40 miles north of the regional capital, Goma.
Few details were available.
De Brosses did not know how many bodies had been found or who killed the victims.
Rubare was controlled by fighters loyal to former army Gen. Laurent Nkunda until earlier this month, when clashes broke out in the region between Nkunda’s men and the army.
Nkunda left the army several years ago and now commands thousands of his own combatants in the area
Michel Bonnardeaux, a spokesman for the UN mission in the DRC, said the graves were found by residents, who reported them to UN officials.
The region has been the scene of fighting between the army and militias loyal to Nkunda, who commands thousands of combatants in the area. Clashes eased over the last week, but the area remains tense.
The UN food agency said today it had delivered emergency food rations to about 35,000 people at a camp at Mugunga, just north of Goma.
But “poor security has severely limited access beyond Mugunga to the worst-affected areas,” including parts of Masisi district, where “at least 7,000 people are believed to be living in the bush in urgent need of food,” the UN World Food Programme said.
“Across the east, the situation is getting worse every day for innocent civilians caught up in this conflict,” said the agency’s the DRC director, Charles Vincent. “There are too many we are currently unable to reach.”
Tens of thousands of people have fled the latest round of violence, bringing the total number of displaced in the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu from years of conflict to nearly 1 million, WFP said.
Once controlled by rival rebel factions who eventually signed a peace deal in 2002 to end a four-year war, the DRC’s east has been wracked by fighting between local militias, renegade soldiers and the army for years.
In a bid for calm, President Joseph Kabila called on fighters loyal Nkunda to join the national army, warning that the government would no longer tolerate militias and needed to re-establish its authority over the lawless, far-flung east.
Referring to Nkunda’s army, Kabila said yesterday: “We will keep up the pressure, diplomatically and politically, and we will also continue to build the capacity of the army to contain them. The time has come to accept integration” into the national army.
Nkunda left the army and formed his own militia soon after the DRC’s war ended in 2002, claiming he needed to fight to protect ethnic Tutsis from Rwandan Hutu rebels who took refuge in east the DRC following Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
In 2004, Nkunda briefly captured the city of Bukavu. His troops have been accused of torture and rape, and he is named in an international arrest warrant for war crimes.
Kabila’s government has struggled – with little success – to establish authority over eastern regions thousands of miles from Kinshasa. Kabila has the backing of a UN peacekeeping mission that is the world’s largest, with about 18,000 troops.