Congo Officials Make Arrests in Deaths of 2 U.N. Investigators
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Two suspects were arrested in connection with the murders last month of two United Nations investigators in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the authorities said on Friday, although one of them subsequently escaped.
The bodies of Michael Sharp, an American, and Zaida Catalan, a Swede, were found in a shallow grave two weeks after they disappeared on March 12, along with four Congolese colleagues. The investigators had been appointed by the United Nations Security Council to look into a rebellion and accusations of human rights abuses in the restive Kasai-Central Province.
In a news conference in Kinshasa, Gen. Joseph Ponde Isambwa, Congo’s military auditor, identified one of the suspects as an “insurgent” named Daniel Mbayi Kabasele, but he did not disclose additional details. General Isambwa also declined to say how the other suspect had been able to escape, though he said that four police officers responsible for guarding the pair had been arrested.
Mr. Kabasele was transferred from the remote village of Bunkonde, where the bodies were found, to the city of Kananga on April 4, with the support of the Congolese Mission to the United Nation, General Isambwa said. More details will be released as his hearing gets underway, he added.
The Congolese interpreters and drivers working with the investigators remain missing. The United Nations, which is carrying out its own investigation, could not be reached for comment.
The deaths of Mr. Sharp and Ms. Catalan, who had extensive experience working in conflict zones, were unusual even for a country that has been plagued by civil war and endless small wars for 20 years, ever since its longtime dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, was overthrown by the Rwandan Army and a small Congolese rebel group.
Their disappearance was the first time United Nations experts have been reported missing in Congo, according to Human Rights Watch. Shortly before they were killed, a video surfaced showing what appeared to be army soldiers killing civilians in the same region.
The deaths come against the background of political paralysis in the nation, largely because of President Joseph Kabila’s reluctance to step down from power after failing to hold elections, as constitutionally mandated, last year.
The impasse has incited protests by opposition forces, which have regularly held strikes that have transformed the country’s largest cities into “ghost towns.”
In a bid last week to carry out a transitional agreement brokered with the opposition in December, Mr. Kabila named a former leading member of the main opposition coalition as prime minister. But his selection of a different candidate from the one nominated by the opposition may stoke further protests rather than quell them.
In a country where the rule of law is largely absent, some people had little doubt who lay behind the murder of the United Nations officials.
“It’s the military, the police, the secret service who know the most about this story, the assassination of two United Nations experts,” said Monique Ngalula, a leader of a Congolese women’s activist group. The murders, she said, were “remote controlled by the security service.”