Reuters International

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - The remains of two U.N. investigators who went missing earlier this month are likely among bodies discovered by villagers in central Democratic Republic of Congo, the father of one victim and Congo's government spokesman said on Tuesday

Michael Sharp, a U.S. citizen, and Zaida Catalan, a Swedish national, had been part of a group of experts monitoring a sanctions regime imposed on Congo by the U.N. Security Council when they disappeared in an area engulfed by a violent uprising.

"We have been informed that two Caucasian bodies have been found in shallow graves in the search area, one male and one female," John Sharp, the father of Michael, wrote on his Facebook page.

"Since no other Caucasians have been reported missing in that region, there is a high probability that these are the bodies of MJ and Zaida," he wrote.

DNA tests and dental records will be used to confirm the identities of the bodies, he added.

Congo Communications Minister Lambert Mende said villagers had discovered three bodies - two Caucasians and one Congolese - not far from where the experts group disappeared.

Police informed the Kinshasa government on Monday and a team including the provincial police commissioner was sent to the scene to identify the bodies.

"It is probable that it is them, unfortunately," Mende said, adding however that the authorities were still awaiting the results of a forensic examination.

The United Nations said it could not yet confirm the identities of the bodies.

Congo's government said earlier this month the two U.N. officials had fallen into the hands of unidentified "negative forces" along with four Congolese who were with them near the village of Ngombe in the province of Kasai Central.

The region is the epicentre of the Kamuina Nsapu insurgency which has now spread to five provinces in the loosely governed Central African country.

The militants pose an increasingly serious threat to the rule of President Joseph Kabila, whose decision to stay on beyond the end of his elected mandate last December has sent ripples of unrest across the vast mining powerhouse.

According to the United Nations, more than 400 people have been killed in violence in which militants are have been blamed for atrocities and government forces are accused of targeting civilians.

Local officials said on Saturday militiamen decapitated about 40 police officers in the deadliest attack on the security forces since the Kamuina Nsapu uprising began last year.

(Reporting by Joe Bavier in Abidjan and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; editing by Edward McAllister and Mark Heinrich)


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