The UN has verified the deaths of 530 Banunu civilians who were slain by Batende villagers in the Democratic Republic of Congo in December, in an attack that was carried out over three days in four villages in the west of the country, stating that it may amount to crimes against humanity.
The initial UN report states that several villagers were beheaded and many were killed as they attempted to flee across a river. The death toll is likely to be higher than indicated, however, as investigators only reached three out of four villages attacked and bodies were believed to have been thrown into the Congo river.
The report also indicates that more than 19,000 people were displaced from their homes and almost a thousand buildings, including schools, hospitals, and churches were destroyed or looted. The UN said it suspects that this violence would amount to crimes against humanity.
Congolese officials could not be reached for comment.
The attacks were believed to be triggered by the burial of a Banunu chief and came two weeks before a national election. There are speculations that this attack may have been politically motivated as the Batende leaders supported Congo’s ruling coalition whereas the Banunu leadership support the opposition. This is further supported by the fact that an electoral building was burned down, however, investigators have not established a clear link.
Initial findings show that the attack was conducted with clear coordination and speed to inflict as much damage as possible. Police were noted to have left before these attacks despite clear indications of rising tension. Ravina Shamdasani, a UN human rights spokesperson, told reporters that some police officials took part in the attack in a personal capacity but there was no evidence that the police as a whole was complicit with the attack.
Shamdasani warns that conflict could rise again as there are areas where the Banunu and Batende communities live together.
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