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  29 Jan 2022, 11:16

DR Congo court set for verdict in murder of UN experts

KANANGA, DR Congo, Jan 29, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - A military court in Democratic
Republic of Congo Saturday is set to pronounce a long-awaited verdict in a
mass trial over the 2017 murder of two UN experts in a troubled central
region.

   Dozens of people have been on trial for more than four years over a
killing that shook diplomats and the aid community, although key questions
about the episode remain unanswered.

   Michael Sharp, an American, and Zaida Catalan, a Swedish-Chilean,
disappeared as they probed violence in the Kasai region after being hired to
do so by the United Nations.

   They were investigating mass graves linked to a bloody conflict that had
flared between the government and a local group.

   Their bodies were found in a village on March 28, 2017, 16 days after they
went missing. Catalan had been beheaded.

   Unrest in the Kasai region had broken out in 2016, triggered by the
killing of a local traditional chief, the Kamuina Nsapu, by the security
forces.

   Around 3,400 people were killed, and tens of thousands of people fled
their homes, before the conflict fizzled out in mid-2017.

   Prosecutors at the military court in Kananga are demanding the death
penalty against 51 of the 54 accused, 22 of whom are fugitives and are being
tried in absentia.

   The charge sheet ranges from terrorism and murder to participation in an
insurrectional movement and the act of a war crime through mutilation.

   According to the official version of events, pro-Kamuina Nsapu militiamen
executed the pair on March 12, 2017, the day they went missing.

   But in June 2017, a report handed to the UN Security Council described the
killings as a "premeditated setup" in which members of state security may
have been involved.

   During the trial, prosecutors suggested that the militiamen had carried
out the murders to take revenge against the United Nations, which the sect
accused of failing to prevent attacks against them by the army.

   If so, those who purportedly ordered the act were not identified
throughout the marathon proceedings.

   Among the main accused is a colonel, Jean de Dieu Mambweni, who
prosecutors say colluded with the militiamen, providing them with ammunition.
He denies the charges and his lawyers say the trial is a set-up.

   Mambweni and 50 others face the death penalty, a charge that is frequently
pronounced in murder cases but is routinely commuted to life imprisonment
since DRC declared a moratorium on executions in 2003.

   Prosecutors are demanding 20-year jail terms against three other
defendants, saying they deserve a measure of leniency for having cooperated
with investigators.

   Saturday's verdict is liable to appeal at the High Military Court in
Kinshasa, DRC's capital.

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