KINSHASA, Congo – Authorities in Congo said Tuesday they have opened an investigation into whether a former government minister played a role in inciting violence in the turbulent Kasai provinces that has killed hundreds in recent months, including a team of United Nations experts.
Attorney General Flory Kabange Numbi announced he was opening a probe into Clement Kanku, who was one of the people being investigated by the U.N. team killed earlier this year and left in a shallow grave.
The development comes after The New York Times cited an audiotape of Kanku allegedly condoning the violence, at one point saying: "It's good that we burn everything."
Zaida Catalan, a Swedish-Chilean national and one of the two U.N. experts killed, had obtained the tape and was investigating Kanku's role. Kanku in a statement Tuesday refuted the allegations.
The bodies of Catalan, American Michael Sharp and colleague Betu Tshintela were found in March after they went missing while investigating human rights abuses.
The Congolese government later obtained a cell phone video showing them being killed. It blamed members of the Kamwina Nsapu militia that is active in the Kasai provinces. At least 400 people have died in the region since August.
Congolese authorities have said they have 16 suspects in connection with the U.N. experts' murders and that two will soon face trial on war crimes charges including murder and mutilation.
The spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, Stephane Dujarric, said the U.N. had not been fully briefed on Congo's investigation.
"I think we're a little taken aback at the rapidity in which it was done," he said. "I think these things need to be investigated thoroughly."
Sweden's deputy ambassador to the U.N., Carl Skau, said a Security Council meeting on the matter Tuesday was addressing how the U.N. can support the three investigations under way by Congo, Sweden and the United States.
"We hope that there can be lessons drawn from this case that can make sure that this does not happen in the future, or at least if you address the risks and minimize the risks," Skau told reporters. "We realize that all these experts will be operating in dangerous environments."
Dujarric said a U.N. board of inquiry is expected to complete its work by the end of July but that the U.N. doesn't have the authority to launch a criminal investigation.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.