By Aaron Ross
U.N. investigators Zaida Catalan and Michael Sharp were on familiar ground when they sat down with local leaders in central Congo in March to discuss a widening seven-month-old conflict in the area
The pair – experienced members of a panel monitoring the sanctions regime in Democratic Republic of Congo for the U.N. Security Council – were meeting members of the Kamuina Nsapu, a local clan, on the sidelines of peace talks with the government in the city of Kananga.
Among other things, they discussed plans to visit the village of Bunkonde, the site of violent clashes, the next day.
The two U.N. workers left Kananga on the morning of March 12. On March 27, their bodies were found in a shallow grave. Catalan had been decapitated.
Congolese government officials maintained for months to reporters that no state agents were involved in the killings and that they did not know that the two experts were in the region, let alone heading to Bunkonde.
But at least one person who helped organise the trip, Jose Tshibuabua, worked for Congo’s intelligence service, the Agence Nationale de Renseignements (ANR), Reuters and Radio France Internationale (RFI) have learned.
The trial of a dozen suspected Kamuina Nsapu militia members started in June but was suspended in October pending the arrival in Congo of four U.N. experts last month to assist with additional investigations
Phone logs in a confidential prosecutor’s case file compiled for the trial and seen by Reuters and RFI, who jointly reported this story, show that Tshibuabua had frequent contact with a local ANR boss, Luc Albert Tanga Sakrine, before and after the two experts were killed.
Two security sources said that case file was given to a U.N. board of inquiry that concluded militiamen were likely responsible for the killings of Sharp, 34, an American, and Catalan, 36, a Swede.
Tshibuabua and his ties to the ANR were not mentioned in the board’s confidential report to the U.N. Security Council or in the trial, however
The board said it was unable to establish a motive for state actors to have been involved. But the two experts were conducting investigations in an area where the United Nations has accused Congo’s military of using excessive force against militia and civilians and of digging mass graves.
The top ANR official in Congo, Kalev Mutond, told Reuters and RFI that Tshibuabua was working as a “volunteer informant” for the agency at the time of the meeting, but did not inform ANR officials about his contacts with the two experts.
Since the trial of the militiamen was suspended, Tshibuabua was arrested and charged last week with the murder of Catalan and Sharp and participation in an insurrection, his lawyer, Tresor Kabangu, told Reuters. Kabangu said his client denies the charges and has not worked for the ANR in more than a year.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende now says that authorities have not excluded the possibility that state agents were involved.
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