Two UN officials on a peacekeeping mission have been kidnapped in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The victims, a US national and a Swede, had been probing clashes in the devastated Kasai Central province.
The Congolese government confirmed on Monday that the two United Nations officials had "fallen into the hands of negative forces" near the village of Ngombe in the Kasai Central province.
A government statement identified the officials as Michael Sharp, a US national, and Zaida Catalan, a Swede. Four Congolese nationals travelling with the pair - three motorcycle-taxi drivers and an interpreter - were also abducted.
"The administrative and security services are working ... in concert with Monusco (the U.N. mission) to obtain the liberation of the kidnapped persons," the statement, signed by Information Minister Lambert Mende, said. Officials said they had not identified which group was behind the kidnapping.
Charles-Antoine Bambara, the spokesman for the MONUSCO peacekeeping mission, indicated that the group had been missing since Sunday. Another UN spokesman said that UN peacekeepers were also searching for the missing group, without giving further details.
DRC's violence-wracked region
Sharp and Catalan were in the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) Kasai Central province as part of a panel of UN experts investigating the conflicts that have ravaged the central African country since the mid-1990s, when a deadly civil war spawned dozens of armed militia groups competing for stakes in the country's rich mineral resources.
The densely-forested Kasai Central province has in particular been consumed by clashes between tribal militias and security forces. The UN has reported that since August, when forces killed a local militia leader, more than 400 people have been killed and 200,000 displaced.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, also revealed last week that inspectors had discovered three mass grades in the area. That week, a Uruguayan peacekeeper was also shot and injured in the region.
The UN has some 19,000 troops deployed in the DRC, making it the organization's largest and mostly costly peacekeeping mission.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday asked the Security Council to deploy an extra 320 UN police to the country after talks seeking to end a dispute over the presidential election broke down.
dm/rc (Reuters, AP, AFP)