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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Congo Tells UN to Start Investigation

KINSHASA, Congo -- The Congo government on Wednesday told leaders of a UN team set up to investigate allegations of massacres of Rwandan Hutu refugees in the former Zaire that it could begin its work at once.

Reconstruction Minister Etienne Mbaya, speaking after Secretary General Kofi Annan set a Thursday night deadline for the start of the much-delayed probe, also told the leaders of the team at his office that it was free to go where it wanted.

"There is nothing stopping you this time deploying your mission where you want. You can begin this mission in lower Congo, Mbuji Mayi, in Kananga or in Equateur [province], in other words at Mbandaka," Mbaya said.

"If you ask when you can start, I reply: 'Before yesterday,'" he said, adding they could leave at once if they told him where they were going, or they could wait until Thursday when he would organize a meeting with President Laurent Kabila.

The two sides then went into private talks. The meeting finished without any statement.

The UN set up the team to investigate allegations from aid workers that Kabila's forces or his Rwandan Hutu allies had killed the Hutu refugees during the seven-month campaign that brought him to power in May. Kabila has rejected the charge.

The team's mandate was later extended to cover atrocities committed in the former Zaire since March 1993, when the late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, ousted by Kabila, was in power.

Frustrated by months of delays, Annan was on the verge of calling back the team on Tuesday but UN officials said he was persuaded by diplomats from Congo and the United States to delay the recall a bit longer.

"He feels he cannot justify much longer retaining the team in Kinshasa if it cannot move into the field immediately to conduct the investigation it was sent there to carry out," UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said Tuesday.

But Eckhard said the secretary-general decided to wait 48 hours, until he could evaluate a planned Wednesday meeting between UN team leaders and Kabila.

Atsu-Koffi Amega, a retired Togo Supreme Court judge, leads the group and Andre Chigovera, Zimbabwe's deputy attorney general, is his deputy. A third team leader, Reed Brody, a U.S. human rights expert, left Kinshasa because his father was ill.

The team of about 15, including some of the world's top forensic scientists, arrived in Kinshasa in August. Since then it has been waiting for a green light from Kabila's government to begin investigations in the field.

Kabila and his government had objected to the investigation being carried out by a Geneva-based UN human rights team led by Robert Garreton of Chile because of a critical report Garreton had filed based on reports by aid workers and survivors.