UN discovers five likely 'mass graves' in DRC

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A UN report said on Thursday what appears to be five mass graves have been discovered in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where recent intercommunal violence has killed more than 260 people.

The UN's joint office for human rights has identified five "probable mass graves" in Blukwa Centre and Maze/Waliba in Ituri province during a fact-finding mission last month.

The troubled province is caught in a cycle of violence between the Hema and Lendu communities, cattle herders and farmers who have long fought over land – a conflict that intensified from December but has since calmed down.

Humanitarian groups say the violence has forced around 300,000 people from their homes.

"At least 263 people, including at least 91 women, have been killed; 29 others injured and 120 localities and villages have been looted and destroyed" in Djugu territory since December 2017, the UN report said.

"The majority of the victims are ethnic Hema," it added.

Authorities in DRC said they had not been informed about the discovery.

"There is no mass grave to our knowledge," said Etienne Unega, interior minister for Ituri province.

"The UN's joint Office should make the report available to us that contains these allegations."

The UN mission in DRC, Monusco, on Wednesday said schools, markets, places of worship and health centres were reopening in Djugu territory, noting a "calming of the situation".

Hema herders and Lendu farmers have been locked in violence in Ituri for decades, with tens of thousands killed between 1999 and 2003.

The violence was so great in 2003 it triggered Operation Artemis, a three-month operation by the European Union, its first military mission outside Europe.

It succeeded in the goal of avoiding a humanitarian catastrophe but fighting never came to a total halt.

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