Two bodies have been found of an American and a Swedish investigator with the United Nations and their Congolese interpreter in Congo's Central Kasai province, more than two weeks after they disappeared while looking into recent violence there.
"After tests ... it is possible to identify the bodies as the two UN experts and their interpreter as being found near the Moyo river," Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende yesterday said.
Investigations will continue to find other missing Congolese colleagues, he said.
Michael Sharp of the United States and Zaida Catalan of Sweden, along with interpreter Betu Tshintela, driver Isaac Kabuayi and two motorbike drivers, went missing March 12 while looking into large-scale violence and alleged human rights violations by the Congolese army and local militia groups.
Congo's police inspector general Charles Bisengimana said the bodies were found on Monday between the cities of Tshimbuluand Kananga, the provincial capital.
The confirmation came a day after Sharp's father, JohnSharp of Hesston, Kansas, wrote on his Facebook page that the bodies of two Caucasians had been found in shallow graves in the search area for the UN investigators.
"Since no other Caucasians have been reported missing in that region, there is a high probability that these are the bodies of MJ and Zaida," he wrote. "Dental records and DNA samples will be used to confirm the identities. This will takesome time."
"All other words fail me." There was no immediate comment yesterday night from the United Nations.
Sharp and Catalan's disappearance is the first time UN experts have been reported missing in Congo, Human Rights Watch has said, and it is the first recorded disappearance of international workers in the Kasai provinces.
Parts of Congo, particularly the east, have experienced insecurity for decades, but violence in the Kasai provinces in central Congo represents a new expansion of tensions.
The Kamwina Nsapu militia has been fighting security forces since last year, with the violence increasing after security forces killed the militia's leader in August. More than 400 people have been killed and more than 200,000 displaced since then, according to the UN.
When asked earlier yesterday whether the investigators' disappearance could be a turning point in the UN sending experts to the region, the deputy spokesman for the UN secretary-general, Farhan Haq, said: "We hope that we could continue to send experts to do their necessary monitoring activities wherever they need to go. Of course, that needs to be undertaken with full respect and understanding of the security condition on the ground."