The United Nations has warned of a possible eruption of violence in western Democratic Republic of Congo, and has urged the government to take measures to avoid that happening.
The agency says that “new waves of violence” could erupt “at any time” in the country that has been dogged by ethnic clashes for years.
Several days of planned and orchestrated killings took place in Mai-Ndombe province, in Yumbi territory at the end of last year, where hundreds of men, women and children were killed.
An assessment by the UN into the events indicated that the violence amounted to crimes against humanity.
Preliminary results of a UN probe released last month said extended attacks were carried out between 16 and 18 December 2018 in four locations.
Initially reports indicated that 890 people had been killed and thousands displaced as a result of the clashes, UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told journalists in Geneva.
“We’ve been able to verify fully that at least 535 men, women and children were killed and 111 others were injured in Yumbi town, Bongende village and Nkolo II village,” Shamdasani said.
These figures “are most likely an underestimate”, she continued, as the bodies of other victims “are believed to have been thrown into the Congo River”.
Shamdasani however noted that the violence hasn’t necessarily been heightened by the elections expected in the region at the end of March.
“There are going to be elections held in this territory on 31 March,” she said, “but of course these people who’ve been displaced and who’ve had to flee across the border to the Republic of Congo, will probably not be able to vote because of ongoing fears of violence.”
The UN Special Representative, and head of MONUSCO, Leila Zerrougui, called on the government to take urgent measures to restore calm in Yumbi territory, and to create conditions for the safe and voluntary return of the displaced.
“The neutral presence of State institutions, including the police, is important to maintain law and order and prevent the risk of further violence”, she said.