KINSHASA, the Democratic Republic of Congo — Two United Nations officials and four Congolese citizens have disappeared in a conflict-ridden region of the Democratic Republic of Congo where army soldiers have been accused of killing civilians, the UN mission there has said.
The officials — Michael Sharp, an American, and Zahida Katalan, a Swede — were traveling in the Kasai region Sunday with three Congolese drivers and a translator when they disappeared, the UN mission said Monday. It added that it was doing everything possible to locate them.
The officials, who are in Congo as part of a peacekeeping mission, had traveled to Kasai to investigate possible human rights violations after reports that government soldiers there had killed at least a dozen unarmed civilians, including children.
Videos recently emerged on social networks showing what appeared to be Congolese government soldiers walking down a country road and shooting people.
The European Union, the United Nations, and the United States have called on the Congolese government to investigate the footage, which rights activists say is evidence of war crimes committed during a counterinsurgency operation. After initially ridiculing the video as fake, the government abruptly changed course and said in February that it had opened an investigation.
The Congolese government said in a statement Monday that the UN officials had traveled to the province of Kasai-Central by motorcycle and were thought to have been abducted by unidentified forces near the village of Ngombe, in the Bukonde area.
Lambert Mende, a spokesman for the government, said the judicial authorities in the area were investigating the disappearance and trying to identity the perpetrators. He suggested the UN officials had acted recklessly in traveling without informing the government.
“It’s not normal for people to come here and start moving around like this,” Mende said Tuesday. “If the government had been informed of the activities of these officials, perhaps they would have had an escort for their safety.”
He said he would raise the issue with the United Nations.
Provinces in the Kasai region, in south-central Congo, have been the site of several days of fighting between the police and a local tribal militia called Kamwena Nsapu. Violence in the area has claimed more than 400 lives since November.
Congo has been struck by civil war and local conflicts since 1997, when its longtime dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, was overthrown.