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3300 dead since central Congo conflict in August

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Months of ongoing violence in DR Congo's central Kasai region has claimed more than 3,300 lives and forced more than 1.3 million people into exile

More than 3300 people have been killed in central Congo's volatile Kasai provinces since August, according to a document released by the Catholic church, as the United Nations called for an global investigation after accounts of babies with machete wounds and pregnant women sliced open.

The minister also said Congolese opposition leader Moise Katumbi, who has been overseas since he was accused of plotting against the state a year ago, was free to come back to Congo whenever he wants, although he would have to face justice.

The clashes have triggered fears of a wider conflict in the central African giant, a tinderbox of ethnic rivalry and competing claims over mineral resources.

Wars at the turn of the century killed millions and involved more than a half-dozen neighbouring countries.

"This will also send a strong signal about the need to uphold human rights in the rest of the country, where lack of progress in implementing the 31 December Agreement, and continued restrictions on political rights and freedoms, are generating frustration and deepening grievances", said the High Commissioner, noting that he would also remain in touch with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

He added that teams deployed by his Office (OHCHR) witnessed children as young as two, whose limbs had been chopped off, and babies with machete wounds and severe wounds.

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"The sad truth is that they are looking for mass graves everywhere except where they may actually exist", she told the council. "One 2-month-old baby seen by my team had been hit by two bullets four hours after birth; the mother was also wounded".

Serious human rights violations by members of the security forces themselves - including summary executions and rape - have been reported during several operations against villages allegedly controlled by the Kamuina Nsapu militia. "At least two pregnant women were sliced open and their fetuses mutilated".

Kinshasa on Monday (June 19) reiterated its stands on not admitting an independent investigation into violence in its Kasai region. But the report will carry considerable weight in a country where about 40 per cent of the population identifies as Catholic.

As NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports, the violence in the central Kasai region erupted last August, "when the military killed Kamuina Nsapu, a chief who was calling for government forces to leave the region".

Human Rights Minister Marie-Ange Mushobekwa-Likulia instead told the United Nations council in Geneva that the Kinshasa government would allow United Nations investigators to help a national probe into the abuses.

Alexis Thambwe Mwamba expressed opposition to European Union resolution at the Human Rights Council that seeks an worldwide, independent mission to investigate rights violations and allegations of mass graves in the wake of hundreds of killings in the Kasai provinces.

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