UN raises death toll from ethnic violence in western DRC to 890

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet of Chile, attends a press conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Dec. 05, 2018. EPA-EFE FILE/MARTIAL TREZZINI

Nairobi, Jan 16 (efe-epa).- The United Nations’ top human rights official said Wednesday that at least 890 people have died during the violence between rival ethnic groups that erupted last month in a western region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Ethnic clashes broke out between Dec. 16-18 among the Banunu and Batende communities in four villages of the Yumbi region – a part of the greater Mai-Ndombe province, located to the north of the capital, Kinshasa, on the banks of the Congo River that separates Africa’s second-largest country from its neighbor, the Republic of the Congo-Brazzaville.

«UN Human Rights Office says credible reports suggest at least 890 killed in western DRC violence in mid-December 2018,» read the statement by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

«Reports suggest that at least 82 people were also injured in the attacks, but the actual number of casualties is expected to be higher,» the statement added.

The local government, meanwhile, said that the actual number of dead was fewer than fifty people.

The UN report said that around 465 houses and buildings had been burned down or plundered, including two primary schools, a health center, a health post, a market, and the office of the independent national electoral commission (CENI).

The report added that most of the population in those villages was allegedly forced to flee, as around 16,000 persons sought refuge on the other side of the river in the Republic of the Congo.

The statement said that an investigation has been opened, with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet saying: «It is crucial that this shocking violence be promptly, thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators be brought to justice.»

Bachelet added that it was vital to provide justice to the victims and to stop continued ethnic violence.

Behind this latest outbreak of violence, there is reportedly a deeper conflict between the two ethnic groups which often erupts around election time.

In the 2006 and 2011 elections, there were clashes in Yumbi between the Banunu majority and the Batende minority, according to local radio station Radio Okapi.

In the lead-up to the most recent elections held on Dec. 30, many of the Batende community supported the ruling Common Front for Congo (FCC), headed by Joseph Kabila, while many members of the Banunu supported the Lamuka coalition, led by the opposition candidate Martin Fayulu.

Just four days before the polling, on Dec. 26, CENI decided to postpone the elections in the Yumbi territory due to violence, as well as in two other enclaves in the northeast, Beni and Butembo – which were affected by the recent Ebola outbreak – to a date not yet specified in March.