3300 dead since central Congo conflict began

More than 3300 dead in Congo in eight months of violence

Detailing "harrowing reports" of killings, mutilation and entire villages destroyed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's restive Kasai provinces, the top United Nations human rights official today called on the UN Human Rights Council to establish an independent worldwide investigation into the widespread rights violations and abuses there. Congo's human rights minister dismissed that statement.

Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein told the U.N. Human Rights Council Tuesday hundreds of villagers had been "shot dead, hacked or burned to death, and mutilated" over the past two months.

The clashes have triggered fears of a wider conflict in the central African giant, a tinderbox of ethnic rivalry and competing claims over mineral resources.

They also accused the Kamuina Nsapu militia of killing hundreds of people, destroying four villages and attacking church property in a campaign to drive out central government troops. Wars at the turn of the century killed millions and sucked in neighbouring countries. Kasai is an opposition stronghold.

"My team saw children as young as 2 whose limbs had been chopped off; many babies had machete wounds and severe burns", he said in his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council. Several refugees have told my staff they were forced to bury victims in additional mass graves. "One 2-month-old baby seen by my team had been hit by two bullets four hours after birth; the mother was also wounded".

As Ofeibea reports, this is happening amid broader political turmoil in the country: "The violence in restive Kasai fueled existing political tensions in Congo, prompted by Joseph Kabila's decision to stay in power beyond his December 2016 two-term presidential limit". "At least two pregnant women were sliced open and their fetuses mutilated".

The army's spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.

Two UN experts investigating the violence, American Michael Sharp and Zeida Catalan from Sweden, were killed in March, prompting global outrage.

The church's report will carry considerable weight in a country where about 40% of the population identifies as Catholic.

The region in central Congo exploded into violence after a traditional chief known as Kamwina Nsapu was killed in a military operation in August after his militants revolted against Congolese authorities.

Speaking to reporters Monday on the sidelines of the council session, Mwamba said Congo's government has already agreed to allow investigators, but said they should work with Congolese authorities - not independently.

Alexis Thambwe Mwamba expressed opposition to European Union resolution at the Human Rights Council that seeks an global, independent mission to investigate rights violations and allegations of mass graves in the wake of hundreds of killings in the Kasai provinces.

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