Ki-moon offers to help in Congo death inquiry

By Katrina Manson

Kinshasa - United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has offered to help Democratic Republic of Congo with an investigation into the death of a leading human rights activist who was found dead in the capital early on Wednesday.

Floribert Chebeya, head of the national network of human rights NGOs and of local NGO Voice of the Voiceless (VSV), was found dead in his car in a Kinshasa suburb after being called to an appointment with the Inspector General of Police, General John Numbi, on Tuesday evening.

"The secretary-general stresses that investigation of these and all such cases should be thorough, transparent and independent, and with full respect for due process and rule of law," said a statement issued on behalf of Ban on Thursday.

"The United Nations, through ... (the UN Congo mission) MONUC, is prepared to assist such an investigation, if requested," the statement said.

Britain's minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham, also called on Congo to conduct a full and transparent investigation into Chebeya's death.

Chebeya, who campaigned to uphold the constitution and improve prison conditions, had been harassed by authorities in the past and a report this year by rights group Amnesty International said he was at risk.

Over the past decade, Chebeya had focused on human rights abuses in some of the most politically sensitive issues in Congo, including corruption in the military and links between militias and foreign political forces.

Police said Chebeya was found dead in the back of his car in the Mitendi neighbourhood of Kinshasa early on Wednesday.

"Our agents found the body of a man with no visible trace of violence and whose trouser flies were undone," said a statement from Kinshasa police chief General Jean de Dieu Oleko.

"Beside him were two used condoms ... a box of the stimulant 'DAVIGRA' which contained two used pill cartons ... two artificial nails and some women's hair," it said.

It was not yet known whether Chebeya had kept his appointment with Numbi.

Amnesty International, and other rights groups, said his death was suspicious.

"He was fearing for his life and human rights defenders are being targeted in Congo," Veronique Aubert, deputy director for Amnesty International's Africa programme, told reporters.

A UN human rights expert suggested official involvement.

"Floribert Chebeya was killed in circumstances which strongly suggest official responsibility," UN investigator for extrajudicial executions Philip Alston said in a speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday.

Kinshasa's police chief said no avenue of inquiry would be excluded from the investigation and the interior ministry offered condolences at the news of Chebeya's death.

"There are no clear leads and the government expresses its regrets and directs all its security and information services to launch ... investigations without delay to determine the exact circumstances of his death," said a statement from Vice Prime Minister for Interior and Security Adolphe Lumanu.

Chebeya's driver, Fidele Bazana, has been missing since Tuesday evening. - Reuters

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