UN investigators are already researching war crimes against civilians committed during the latest outbreak of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kivu provinces. What they found near the village of Kiwanja is a story that could easily have come from Heart of Diamonds.
UN spokeswoman Sylive van den Wildenberg said investigators visited eleven graves containing what villagers said were 26 bodies. Anneke Van Woudenberg, a researcher for Human Rights Watch told the Associated Press that their reports are of more than 50 dead, but haven’t been confirmed.
Witnesses said they suffered two waves of killings. First the mai-mai militia, backers of the Congolese government, came and killed people it accused of supporting renegade general Laurent Nkunda, then the rebels won control and killed those they charged with supporting the militia, targeting people from the Nande tribe for assassination. The local mai-mai draws its fighters from that tribe.
Nkunda’s rebels also looted and burned homes and businesses, according to witnesses. Many victims were killed execution style with bullets to the head, then dressed in military uniforms.
The UN has been unable to protect civilians in the fighting that broke out in August. The peacekeepers have a well-established base near Kiwanja but has only 120 soldiers in the town of about 40,000. UN military spokesman Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich told the AP that the UN troops were pinned down under crossfire for some of the first day of the killings, and were trying to deter rebel attacks on two other nearby towns, Nyanzale and Kikuku, on the second day.
The incidents occurred about fifty miles north of Goma, the regional capitol.