COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Sweden's national police said Wednesday it has initiated a murder investigation into the death in Congo of a Swedish expert for the United Nations, two days after the bodies of the woman and an American colleague were found in a shallow grave.
The brief police statement said police and prosecutors in Sweden were cooperating with the investigation. It was not immediately clear whether a similar probe had been opened in Congo. Swedish police declined to comment further.
Sweden's prime minister urged the U.N. and Congo to investigate after the bodies were found Monday in a central Congo province that in recent months has seen hundreds killed in violence between security forces and local militia fighters.
Swedish national Zaida Catalan, American Michael Sharp and their interpreter Betu Tshintela went missing March 12 along with driver Isaac Kabuayi and two motorbike drivers in Central Kasai province while looking into large-scale violence and alleged human rights violations by the Congolese army and local militia groups.
Their disappearance was the first time U.N. experts have been reported missing in Congo, Human Rights Watch has said, and it is the first recorded disappearance of international workers in the Kasai provinces.
Sharp, from western Pennsylvania, and Catalan were "killed senselessly," the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, said in a statement.
Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende late Tuesday said investigations will continue to seek the missing Congolese colleagues.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said late Tuesday the world body would conduct an inquiry into what happened to the two experts. He said the cause of their deaths hadn't yet been determined.
Parts of Congo, particularly the east, have experienced insecurity for decades, but violence in the Kasai provinces in central Congo represents a new expansion of tensions.
The Kamwina Nsapu militia has been fighting security forces since last year, with the violence increasing after government troops killed the militia's leader in August. More than 400 people have been killed and more than 200,000 displaced since then, according to the U.N.