The head of a local militia group and a policeman have been arrested over the shock killing of two UN experts in Democratic Republic of Congo a year ago, officials said on Monday.
The two were arrested by troops on Saturday in the village of Bukundo, where the pair were found murdered, the deputy governor of Central Kasai province, Manix Kabuanga, told AFP.
The militia chief was named as Vincent Manga, while the policeman was not identified.
The two “are currently in the hands of the military judiciary,” a source at the military prosecutor’s office in Kananga, the provincial capital, said.
The two experts, Swedish-Chilean Zaida Catalan and American Michael Sharp, were investigating reports of mass graves in the Kasai region, where fierce fighting had erupted the previous year.
They reportedly left the city of Kananga on March 12 and their bodies were found 15 days later. Catalan had been decapitated.
Their deaths sent shockwaves through political and diplomatic circles in Kinshasa – especially so among humanitarian workers grappling with the country’s entrenched violence and escalating humanitarian crisis.
The authorities initially blamed the murder on “terrorists” of Kamwina Nsapu – the followers of a local traditional leader whose killing by government soldiers unleashed a revolt.
The violence has cost several thousand lives and forced around 1.4 million people from their homes.
Rights activists say government troops or militias supported by the authorities have been involved in many acts of brutality.
A trial of the suspected killers got underway at a military court but has been suspended since October 22, amid allegations that Manga’s group had intercepted the UN convoy and led it into the bush to carry out the murders.
On December 20, an investigation by Radio France Internationale (RFI) and Reuters implicated three state agents in the “organisation” of the attack.
A senior army official, asked by AFP to react to the latest developments, said the arrests marked “a significant advance” in the probe.