Kinshasa, Apr 15: The UN said today it has urged the Congolese authorities to exhume hundreds of bodies buried in a mass grave near Kinshasa, to find out how they died.
Last month, at least 421 bodies were found in a mass grave in Maluku near the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital, which local authorities said contained hundreds of dead babies and foetuses.
The affair has raised alarm in DR Congo, while rights groups and the EU have called for independent probes. "We have recommended an exhumation, but it is up to the authorities to take all the necessary steps to reassure the population (and) to fight rumours," said Jose Maria Aranaz, director of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office in DR Congo.
"Every effort must be made to shed light (on) this affair. That means reassuring (the population)... and showing civil society and the international community that there is nothing to hide," Aranaz said. "We hope... to reassure (everyone) about what happened in Maluku," he added.
Kinshasa has said the prosecutor-general must decide whether or not to exhume the bodies. The authorities say the bodies were buried on the night of 18 to 19 March near the Maluku cemetery, because the Kinshasa morgue was full.
They say collective burials of this kind are frequent in a city of 10 million residents, and where some 600 people die each day. The discovery of the grave fed into rumours that the bodies could belong to people who died during January unrest over a controversial electoral law.
Dozens of people were killed in violence at the time, mainly in Kinshasa. Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo has told AFP there had "perhaps been administrative errors in the burial process", but added that there was "nothing to fear". Congolese authorities announced Monday they would soon carry out a new collective burial in Kinshasa, despite the international concern.