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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 March 2008, 15:32 GMT
Deadly clashes in west DR Congo
By Arnaud Zajtman
BBC News, Matadi

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At least 68 people have been killed during violence in the west of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Dozens were wounded in the clashes between the police and members of Bundu Dia Kongo, a religious and political group that has its own militia.

It accuses the central government of corruption and mismanagement and is trying to establish its own authority in the west.

The government is trying to restore order.

A UN internal report, leaked to the BBC, says that at least 68 people have been killed since the start of this month, and more than 300 members of Bundu Dia Kongo are missing in this vast region.

Two bodies have been seen by the UN in one of the many rivers of this hilly area.

The UN report said the number of casualties could be much higher.

Churches destroyed

At the end of last month, a Congolese army captain was killed - allegedly by members of Bundu Dia Kongo, the UN internal report says.

Since then, the Congolese police have started a campaign against this group that includes destroying its churches and many houses believed to have belonged to its members.

The chief of the Congolese police has said the operation will continue until state authority is restored.

Bundu Dia Kongo (the People of Congo) challenged the state's authority and tried to impose its own rule in the villages of western Congo.

This included levying a fine of a pig on those who cheated on their wives, and whipping teachers whose schools were not well-maintained.

But the religious group also has its own militia made of young men armed with sticks and machetes.

Machete wounds

Since the start of the police operation at the beginning of this month, dozens of members of the group, including some children, have been admitted to the hospital in the port town of Matadi.

They had gunshot injuries, but some also had machete wounds. They said they had been tortured by the police.

More than 200 armed UN peacekeepers have been deployed in the area, but they seem unable to stop the violence.

The east of the Congo has been at war since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, when violence spilled over the border.

Former rebels once active in eastern Congo were elected in last year's polls.

But alleged corruption in those elections means people in the west of the Congo now feel under-represented in the national institutions.

The chief of Bundu Dia Kongo, who is an elected member of parliament, wants peace talks to be organised, but his demand has been rejected by the government.





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