KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — The U.N. human rights office said Tuesday it is "deeply concerned" about reports that more than 100 people have been killed in clashes between Congolese soldiers and militia fighters mainly armed with machetes and spears.
If confirmed, the U.N. said, it "would suggest excessive and disproportionate use of force by the soldiers."
The death toll was immediately criticized by both the local governor and Congo's government spokesman, who called the U.N. comments "hasty and improper."
Rights office spokeswoman Liz Throssell said Tuesday that the violence in the Dibaya area of Kasai-Central province allegedly involved troops who "opened fire indiscriminately" when they spotted militia members between Thursday and Monday.
Some 39 women were among those killed, Throssell said, citing information from local colleagues and unspecified "sources" in the region.
Throssell said the rights office has called for a "full and independent" investigation, and urged military forces to show restraint.
Alex Kande, the governor of Kasai-Central province, dismissed the toll.
"There were deaths among civilians and militia fighters but it was far fewer than 100," he told The Associated Press.
Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said there must be an investigation into the circumstances and criticized the U.N. comments.
"It's a hasty and improper declaration by our partner," he said.
The militia fighters are accused of destroying buildings and carrying out other acts of violence since their leader Kamwina Nsapu was killed in a police operation last August.
Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.