Activists urge DR Congo to exhume mass grave

Kinshasa (AFP) - Human Rights Watch appealed on Monday to authorities in Democratic Republic of Congo to exhume a mass grave near the capital Kinshasa that contains hundreds of corpses.

"Congolese authorities have yet to provide clarity about who is buried there," said Ida Sawyer, senior Africa researcher at HRW, which became the latest organisation to call for action.

"Families of victims of human rights abuses have a right to know if their loved ones are among those buried in the grave," Sawyer added.

At least 421 bodies were buried in the mass grave in Maluku district in March, including stillborn babies, foetuses and poor people the government claims were interred there to clear out the city morgue.

The discovery of the grave in April fed rumours that it contained people killed during unrest in January sparked by proposed legislation that opponents said was an attempt to extend President Joseph Kabila's hold on power.

The European Union, the United Nations as well as numerous rights and opposition groups have demanded a full investigation of the grave.

Lambert Mende, a spokesman for the DRC government, critised Human Rights Watch's urging for an exhumation.

"We reject... the moves by HRW to stand for the legal system," he told a press conference.

"If the magistrate (assigned to the case) believes an exhumation is required (he) will ask for one," Mede added.

While visiting Kinshasa on Thursday a US State Department official Tom Malinowski urged DR Congo authorities to exhume the mass grave.

Opposition leaders suspect Kabila is positioning himself to a make a third run for office, which is barred by the constitution. The presidential election is set for next year.