DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Republic of Congo soldiers killed at least 18 people, including women and children, while serving as African Union and United Nations peacekeepers in Central African Republic between December 2013 and June 2015, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday. The group urged the Republic of Congo to investigate and bring the soldiers to justice.
The February exhumation of a grave near a peacekeeping base uncovered the remains of 12 people who peacekeepers said had escaped after being detained in March 2014, the rights group said. It also documented death by torture of two Christian militia leaders in Bossangoa in December 2013, a public execution of two suspected militia members in February 2014 and the deadly beating of two civilians in June 2015 in Mambere.
"The discovery of 12 bodies is damning evidence of an appalling crime by Congolese peacekeepers, who had been sent to protect people, not prey on them," said Lewis Mudge, the group's Africa researcher.
Human Rights Watch said it wrote to Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou N'Guesso urging investigations. Troop-contributing countries to AU and U.N. peacekeeping missions are responsible for holding their forces accountable.
The report says a Christian militia leader clashed with peacekeepers in 2014, killing one, and peacekeepers later surrounded the leader's home, detaining about 12 people. Five women, including one who was pregnant, and two children aged seven months old and 10 were among those detained.
Witnesses told the rights group that gunfire was heard, and blood traces were later found.
The AU temporarily suspended the commanding officers in Boali and Bossangoa in June 2014, and their soldiers were redeployed elsewhere in the country, the report says.
A U.N. peacekeeping mission took over from the AU force in September 2014 and insisted the Republic of Congo soldiers be replaced. The U.N. peacekeeping department said two of the killings allegedly took place when the soldiers were part of the U.N. force.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the U.N. received preliminary information from Republic of Congo authorities in May "on various investigative and judicial processes that are underway."
"Everybody shares the goal of ending impunity," he said.
Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.