No trace of two ab­ducted U.N. ex­perts or their staff

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Car­ley Petesch

dakar, sene­gal» Nearly a week after Congo’s gov­ern­ment an­nounced the kid­nap­ping of two United Na­tions ex­perts along with their trans­la­tor and driv­ers, no trace of them has been found. Their ab­duc­tion in a re­gion of the coun­try where kid­nap­pings are rare, and where the ex­perts were in­ves­ti­gat­ing abuses by state and mili­tia forces, has raised alarm as po­lit­i­cal ten­sions spread over an elec­tion cri­sis.

Michael Sharp of the United States and Zaida Cata­lan of Swe­den were ab­ducted with three Con­golese col­leagues while trav­el­ing by mo­tor­cy­cle through Cen­tral Ka­sai province. It was not clear when ex­actly the kid­nap­ping oc­curred.

It is the first recorded ab­duc­tion of in­ter­na­tional work­ers in the province, a re­gion far from the usual tur­moil in eastern Congo where mul­ti­ple armed groups roam.

A new re­port by the U.N. sec­re­tary-gen­eral has warned that vi­o­lence and threats to civil­ians have spread to new parts of the vast coun­try be­cause of Congo’s pro­longed po­lit­i­cal cri­sis.

Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila’s man­date ended in De­cem­ber, but he has stayed on as pres­i­den­tial elec­tions once set for last year have been de­layed. A po­lit­i­cal agree­ment reached between the rul­ing party and op­po­si­tion after weeks of deadly protests prom­ises an elec­tion by the end of this year and that Ka­bila will not run.

But the new re­port by U.N. chief An­to­nio Guter­res says the agree­ment is in peril as the sides en­gage in “brinks­man­ship.”

Parts of Congo have ex­pe­ri­enced in­se­cu­rity for more than two decades since the end of the Rwan­dan geno­cide led to the pres­ence of lo­cal and for­eign armed mili­tias, all vy­ing for con­trol of min­eral-rich land.

But the Cen­tral Ka­sai province where the U.N. ex­perts were ab­ducted rep­re­sents the new ex­pan­sion of ten­sions.

Sharp and Cata­lan had been look­ing into re­cent large-scale vi­o­lence and al­leged hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions by the Con­golese army and lo­cal mili­tia groups. Hun­dreds of peo­ple have been killed in an up­surge of vi­o­lence since July in the province.

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