Congolese security forces and a militia fighting them have killed at least 3,383 people in the central Kasai region since October, the Catholic church said on Tuesday, in the most detailed report to date on the ongoing violence.
Church officials, citing their own sources in the Kasai region, a remote territory bordering Angola, said the army had destroyed 10 villages as it sought to stamp out an insurrection.
The church, the only institution which has a presence across most of this gigantic and largely lawless country, said the brutal killings were perpetrated by the national army, Bana Mura, a militia aligned with the government, and Kamuina Nsapu, a cultish armed group loosely tied to the country’s main opposition party.
The church accused the Kamuina Nsapu militia of killing hundreds of people, destroying four Kasai region villages and attacking church property in a campaign to drive out central government troops.
The church’s report will carry considerable weight in a country where about 40 percent of the population identifies as Catholic.
Fighting surged in Kasai region in August when the army killed a chief who had been calling for central government forces to quit the region, saying it should be left to local leaders.
The violence has stoked political tensions already heightened by President Joseph Kabila’s decision to stay in power beyond the December 2016 end of his mandate. Kasai is an opposition stronghold.
Congo’s government opposes an international investigation, saying that would violate its sovereignty.
1.3 million people displaced
The scale of the conflict is widening rapidly, however. More than 1.3 million people have reportedly been displaced from their homes by the fighting, and UN investigators say they’ve discovered at least 42 mass graves and dozens of razed villages.
In March, two UN investigators were kidnapped in the Kasai region and were killed while on a fact-finding mission in Kasai. Michael Sharp, an American, and Zaida Catalan, who held both Chilean and Swedish citizenship, were looking into the existence of mass graves in particular. The Congolese government declared that Kamuina Nsapu was responsible for their deaths, but numerous activists, aid workers, and journalists who watched a recording of their execution released by the government have questioned this fact.