Congo Opens Inquiry Over Video of Massacre It Had Derided as Fake

NAIROBI, Kenya — After initially ridiculing as fake a video that appears to show army soldiers massacring civilians, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo abruptly changed course and announced on Wednesday that it was opening an investigation into the matter and that several soldiers had been arrested.

The disturbing video surfaced last week, showing what appeared to be Congolese government soldiers walking down a country road and then shooting at least a dozen people standing in front of them.

Close-up images of the bodies revealed that most of the victims were unarmed and that a few had slingshots and wooden sticks. The footage showed soldiers finishing off wounded victims, including young women, with close-range rifle shots to the head and chest.

Human rights activists said that the video was taken this month during a counterinsurgency operation in the central Kasai Province, and that it was evidence of war crimes.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kasai region has been plagued by violence since mid-August when government forces killed a tribal chief and militia leader (AFP Photo/LIONEL HEALING)

When first confronted with the video, Lambert Mende, Congo’s government spokesman, said it was phony and had been made in another African country to make Congo look bad.

Western nations expressed grave concern. The United States State Department called on Congo to “launch an immediate and thorough investigation” and “identify those who perpetrated such heinous abuses.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Mende issued a statement saying that the government was sending a judicial commission to the Kasai area to investigate the allegations and that the government had “zero tolerance” for indiscipline. The statement said several officers and soldiers had already been arrested and were being taken to a military court.

The government asked the public to provide more information. Since the first video emerged, several others considered authentic by Congolese human rights groups have revealed more possible evidence of war crimes in the Kasai area. That includes video of soldiers standing around the corpses of men whose arms were bound tightly and the bodies of young, unarmed boys.

Mr. Mende could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Congo plunged into chaos in 1997 after its longtime dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, was overthrown by the Rwandan Army and a small Congolese rebel group.

Since then, the nation has been plagued by civil war and countless local conflicts.

The country is nearly lawless. The government’s forces are known to be undisciplined, brutal, underpaid and among the most dreaded in the region.

But while there have been numerous reports of atrocities by government troops, it is rare to have such powerful, visual evidence of possible war crimes.

Source: NYTimes