KINSHASA (Reuters) - A prosecutor in Democratic Republic of Congo said on Friday he had charged 34 people with genocide and crimes against humanity in inter-ethnic violence in the country's southeast.
The charges against members of the Luba, a Bantu ethnic group, and Twa, a Pygmy people who inhabit Africa's Great Lakes region, mark the first civilian prosecutions for such crimes in Congo.
"These are crimes that can have severe penalties, up to 30 years for example," the prosecutor-general of Katanga province, Caiphe Useni, told Reuters. Proceedings began on Thursday.
A law enacted in 2013 authorized civilian courts to try cases of genocide and crimes against humanity, he said.
The Luba and Twa have been in conflict since May 2013 in the southeast of Congo, known for its rich deposits of copper, cobalt and other metals.
Local activists say that the violence is driven by social inequities between the Bantu villagers and the Twa, a hunting and gathering people long denied access to land and basic services.
New York-based campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday that Luba fighters killed at least 30 people in April when they attacked a camp for displaced people in northern Katanga.
Twa militias massacred Luba civilians in reprisal attacks, HRW said.
(Reporting By Aaron Ross; Editing by Joe Bavier and Robin Pomeroy)