Speaking at a news conference on Monday, the interim state prosecutor, Tshibambe kia Pungwe, told reporters that his office had opened the inquiry "to find out more about the atrocities", which have been blamed on local rebel movements seeking to gain ground and mineral resources in the Ituri District of Orientale Province, AFP reported.
"The presence in Kinshasa of a delegation of our pygmy brothers, who were victims of these barbarous acts, will enable us to better establish the facts of this case in order to identify and pursue those responsible for these heinous acts," the Congolese daily L'Observateur quoted him as saying.
Tshibambe kia Pungwe was referring to a human rights awareness conference that had drawn 30 representatives of indigenous communities to the capital. Among them were five pygmies from Ituri, who demanded that the Kinshasa government create a criminal tribunal to bring to book those who had committed crimes against them, including murder and cannibalism.
The UN mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, confirmed on 15 January that rebel groups in the northeast of the country had been engaging in acts of cannibalism. MONUC said it had received witness reports of rebels belonging to the MLC and the RCD-N being involved in cannibalism and forcible cannibalism in Mambasa and Mangina, respectively 50 km and 70 km northwest of Beni.
The Kinshasa government has also sought the assistance of the UN Security Council and the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in establishing an international criminal tribunal.
The MLC and RCD-N have said they favour the government's request for the establishment of an international tribunal to try suspected human rights violators. However, they said the period of investigation should be extended to included crimes committed before the Ituri actions. "We say that the international criminal tribunal should look into crimes committed since 1996," Bemba told IRIN on 20 January from the northwestern DRC town of Gbadolite.
Meanwhile, news sources reported that the MLC had claimed to have completed its withdrawal to 20 km from the northeastern town of Mambasa, in accordance with the Gbadolite agreement of 30 December 2002, signed by the MLC, RCD-N, and the RCD-Kisangani/Mouvement de liberation. However, this had not yet been independently confirmed by MONUC.
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