Three mass graves discovered in Ituri

Investigations have begun into three mass graves containing 30 corpses in a military camp in the northeastern Congolese district of Ituri, UN spokesman Kemal Saiki said Friday.

"The three pits were open. I think that the bodies are being exhumed right now," he said.

The graves were discovered in the Camp Bavi, 60 km south of Bunia town, after a tip-off by a witness who accused soldiers of the 1st. Brigade of the unified army in the area.

Saiki said the execution and burial of these people, including children, took place in August or September. He said the human-rights section of the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) had joined the Congolese military in the investigation.

A court official at the army's Ituri garrison, John Penza, said two captains of the brigade had been arrested. They are being interrogated ahead of a trial that is due to begin soon, Penza said.

"The person who ordered the killings, Capt Francois Molese, who is a battallion commander, said that the action had been taken to revenge soldiers who had been killed by these militia members," Penza said.

Ituri, a district in the northeastern province of Orientale, is the only part of the Congo that has been constantly plagued by ethnic conflict since the national transitional government was installed in 2003. The transition will end when the Supreme Court completes a review of electoral fraud complaints filed by the losing presidential candidate, Jean-Pierre Bemba.

The brigade was deployed to Ituri in January 2006 to disarm roving militia groups which have been active there since 1999. United Nations troops have also been deployed to the area to help the army bring peace to the district.

The 3,500-member brigade is a mix of various belligerent factions that signed an all-inclusive peace accord in South Africa's Sun City that officially ended a five-year civil war. Almost four million people died in the conflict, most from disease. Another five million were displaced or sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

ei/oss/mw