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Swedish and American aid workers found dead in shallow African grave

A Swedish UN aid worker and her American colleague who had been abducted in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been found dead in a shallow grave, the Foreign Ministry and the United Nations confirmed on Wednesday.

Published: March 30, 2017, 9:45 am

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    They were found buried with their Congolese interpreter. Although the United Nations said in a statement that they did not know what had caused their deaths, it is not difficult to guess why they had been killed in a region and country awash with tribal competition to gain access to lucrative concessions involving minerals and other resources.

    The Congolese government is fighting a rebel group which operates in the area and is believed to have kidnapped the experts.

    The unrest in the province has become an increasingly serious threat to President Joseph Kabila, whose decision to stay on beyond the end of his elected mandate last December has sent ripples of unrest across the vast mining country.

    The two had been investigating Kasaï-Central province, where they had gone to uncover reported human rights abuses. The violence in Kasai was sparked by the killing of tribal leader Kamwina Nsapu, who was leading an uprising against Kabila.

    Hundreds of people have been killed in the unrest as tribal leaders have rebelled against the central government. A spokesperson for the DRC government criticised the UN for failing to take adequate measures to protect the experts, saying it was “not normal” for foreign workers to come to the region.

    “If the government had been informed of the activities of these officials, perhaps they would have had an escort for their safety,” said Lambert Mende. It is suspected that the two UN workers had become a “problem” to the government.

    The disappearance of Catalan and Sharp was the first time UN experts had been reported missing in Congo, Human Rights Watch reported, and the first recorded deaths of international workers in the Kasai provinces.

    Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said their mission “gave hope to a country that has long been plagued by violence” and that Catalan had risked her own life to save others.

    Green Party spokespeople Gustav Fridolin and Isabella Lövin described their party adherent and former youth leader Catalan as a “true role model”. Fridolin and Catalan had worked together for two years as spokespeople for the Green Party’s youth wing.

    The Swedish foreign ministry has advised against travelling to the DRC since 2006.

    Brian Palmer, a friend who had invited Catalan to speak to his class at Uppsala University, where he teaches, said: “She had come to see the people that she was trying to help as her equals and her friends and had very much loyalty to them.”

    The part of Kasai-Central Province they had traveled to had lately been littered with mass graves, for which the Congolese Army was blamed.

    Sharp’s laptop was secured by an iris scan — his own. His watch tracked his exact location, but did not emit signals to locate him when he was abducted, suggesting that he was taken by well-trained individuals. Willet Weeks, a senior adviser on eastern Congo to the State Department, told the New York Times: “He had tremendous empathy, even for some of the nastiest people he worked with.”

    But his empathy could not save his life in the end, unfortunately.

    Officials said on Saturday Congolese tribal militiamen decapitated about 40 police officers in the deadliest attack on the security forces since the uprising began last year.

    UN figures indicate that more than 400 people have been killed in violence in which militants have been blamed for atrocities and government forces are accused of targeting civilians.

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