DAKAR, Senegal – Investigators have confirmed another 17 mass graves in central Congo, bringing the number to 40 discovered since clashes between soldiers and a local militia intensified in August, the United Nations human rights office said Wednesday, adding that Congolese soldiers reportedly killed at least 114 people, including 41 children.
The recent violence in once-calm Central Kasai province has included the killing of an American and a Swedish investigator for the U.N. last month, alarming the international community.
U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein warned Wednesday that if Congo's government doesn't investigate the violence effectively, he'll urge that the International Criminal Court or another outside entity do it.
Congo's government spokesman Lambert Mende said they cannot be threatened like this by the U.N. and that the government already has shown it does not tolerate impunity.
"Congo is not under the guardianship of the United Nations," Mende said. "We ask that they work with the military justice system which is already in place." He said the military is already in the region carrying out investigations.
The U.N. statement said Congolese soldiers reportedly dug the 17 newly discovered mass graves after fighting with suspected militia members in late March and killing at least 74 people, including 30 children.
Congolese soldiers also reportedly killed at least 40 people, including 11 children, in the capital of Central Kasai province, Kananga, late last month while going door-to-door looking for militia members, the U.N. said. The soldiers also reportedly buried an "unknown number of bodies" in a mass grave there.
In addition, at least two women and three girls reportedly were raped by soldiers, the statement said. In a separate area of Kananga, the U.N. investigators were told that Congolese police had fatally trampled a one-month-old baby while searching a house.
"The discovery of yet more mass graves and the reports of continued violations and abuses highlight the horror that has been unfolding in the Kasais over the last nine months," Zeid said. He said it is vital that Congo's government take "meaningful steps, which to date have been lacking," to investigate.
Congolese authorities already have promised to look into the killings of the two U.N. investigators and their interpreter and protect civilians from further violence.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been displaced in the region since government troops killed the leader of the Kamwina Nsapu militia in August, according to the U.N.
Wednesday's statement also blames militia members for some of the recent violence, including attacks on churches and government buildings, and it said the militia has been accused of recruiting hundreds of children as fighters.