Kinshasa, Democratic Republic if the Congo (DRC) – On March 12th the United Nations along with the Congolese government confirmed that six people including an American aid worker, Michael Sharp and his Swedish counter-part, Zahida Katalan were kidnapped in the Kasai Central province of the Congo where bloody skirmishes within the region graduated to near genocidal levels in February. Grim reports this morning are indicating that three bodies were found and among the dead were two white bodies. Unconfirmed initial reporting identified them as the Michael Sharp and Zahida Katalan. This was the first time U.N. aid workers had been kidnapped in the Congo.
Renewed bloody conflict broke out between the Kamuina Nsapu militia and DRC troops in the Kasai Central province in early February, prompting the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), to express concerns over the violence in the Kasai Central region and sent in U.N. aid workers to mitigate a peaceful resolution. Both sides of the conflict have blamed the other for atrocities, with murky accusations by the Congolese government of gruesome attacks against DRC troops and innocent civilians along with kidnapping children for ‘child soldiers’ perpetrated by the militia. As well as other unconfirmed reporting by the militia and citizens within the region that DRC troops decimated an entire village killing 101 people, including women and children. Because of these reports, MONUSCO sent Michael Sharp and his U.N. aid worker team into the Kasai to link up with the Kamuina Nsapu militia to begin peace talks.
Michael Sharp, prior to joining the United Nations, worked for three years with the Mennonite Central Committee in Central Africa. During his time in Rwanda, Michael became very astute in tracking down warring militias unarmed and without any security and successfully negotiating with the militias in giving up their child soldiers and convincing these militias to seek peaceful resolutions to their conflicts. “Part of what M.J.[Michael] has done [in the Congo] is establish relationships with militia leaders,” John Sharp, Michael’s father said in an interview with The Wichita Eagle earlier this month. “Apparently, he had some success in persuading some to give up child soldiers.” And that is possibly what Michael, Zahida, and his six person team of interpreter Betu Tshintela, driver Isaac Kabuayi and two other unidentified drivers were planning to do and set out on motorcycles and headed into the Kasai Central province to more than likely find the Kamuina Nsapu militia and save the child soldiers this militia uses and seek a peaceful resolution, and then Michael and his team disappeared.
And sadly early this morning the bodies of Michael Sharp and Zahida Katalan were found in a shallow grave. Michael’s father, John Sharp posted on his Facebook account late March 27th that said, “We have been informed that two Caucasian bodies have been found in shallow graves in the search area, one male and one female,” Mr. Sharp continued “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.” As of now no official confirmation from the United Nations, the Congolese government, or the Kamuina Nsapu militia itself has been heard or given at the time of publication.
Feature Image courtesy of Twitter