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Dozens sentenced to death over murders of UN experts in Congo

A local immigration official was among those
given death sentences while an army colonel was given 10 years in prison, said
Tresor Kabangu, who represented several defendants in the trial. Congo has
observed a moratorium on the death penalty since 2003 so those convicted will
serve life sentences.

Human rights groups say investigators have
ignored the potential involvement of higher-level officials, and Catalan and
Sharp’s families said they did not believe the ultimate masterminds had been
brought to justice.

Catalan, a Swede, and Sharp, an American, were
investigating violence between government forces and a militia in the central
Kasai region in March 2017 when they were stopped along the road by armed men,
marched into a field and executed.

Congolese officials have blamed the killings
on the Kamuina Nsapu militia. They initially denied any state agents were
involved but later arrested the colonel and several other officials who they
said were working with the rebels.

After a nearly five-year trial marked by
repeated delays and the deaths of several defendants in custody, a military
court in the city of Kananga delivered its verdict on Saturday.

Among those sentenced to death was Thomas
Nkashama, a local immigration official who met with Catalan and Sharp the day
before their fatal mission, Kabangu said. Others were alleged members of the
militia.

Colonel Jean de Dieu Mambweni, who also met
with Catalan and Sharp before their mission, was sentenced to 10 years, Kabangu
said.

A number of the defendants were convicted in
absentia because they were either never apprehended or escaped from custody.

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Catalan’s sister, Elisabeth Morseby, said
after the verdict that testimony in the case was of dubious reliability given
how much time the defendants had spent together in prison and said the
conviction of Mambweni was a smokescreen.

“In order for the truth to emerge, all
suspects, including those higher up in the hierarchy, need to be questioned,
which has not yet been done,” she told Reuters.

Sharp’s mother, Michele, said she was glad
some perpetrators were being held accountable, but wondered who gave the
orders.

“Surely someone in the upper echelons of
power,” she said. “We await further developments.”

Congo’s chief military prosecutor was not
immediately available for comment. Prosecutors have previously said that they
followed the available evidence.

Sweden’s foreign minister, Ann Linde, urged
Congolese authorities to cooperate with a UN mechanism involved in the
investigation to shine further light on the matter.

“Crucial that investigation concerning
others involved continues to further uncover truth and bring justice,” she
said on Twitter.

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