Another suspect in the killing of a Mennonite United Nations investigator in the Democratic Republic of Congo was arrested Dec. 29, but an understanding of who killed Michael J. Sharp — and why — continues to be unclear.
Sharp and fellow U.N. investigator Zaida Catalan of Sweden were abducted while monitoring sanctions violations and possible war crimes by the Congolese national army and various militias. They were killed by unknown assailants on March 12, and their bodies were found March 27 in a shallow grave.
The New York Times and UPI reported Constantin Tshidime Bulabula was arrested Dec. 29. A Congolese armed forces spokesperson described him as the suspected mastermind behind the slaying, chief of a town south of where the killings took place and a member of the Kamuina Nsapu militia, which is at odds with the government.
A dozen members of that militia were put on trial in June, but those activities were put on hold pending a U.N. investigation. The Congolese army denies involvement in the deaths and points to an execution video showing men it says are militia members carrying out the killings. Though the men are dressed like the Kamuina Nsapu militia, they are poor speakers of the local dialect and reference a meeting that took place prior to the killing in an area controlled by the army. A U.N. inquiry in August could not rule out government involvement.
Reuters reported Dec. 19 that Sharp and Catalan met with members of Kamuina Nsapu March 11 in the city of Kananga while they attended peace talks in that city. At least one person who organized the ill-fated March 12 trip was Jose Tshibuabua, who worked for Congo’s intelligence service. Reuters confirmed phone logs in a confidential prosecutor’s file show Tshibuabua exchanged at least 17 text messages with a provincial intelligence chief March 10-12, including five shortly after the U.N. workers met with militia representatives and another five around 9 p.m. March 12, hours after Sharp and Catalan were killed.
Reuters reported the same intelligence worker was also in contact with a phone belonging to translator Betu Tshintela, who accompanied Sharp and Catalan on the March 12 trip. He is a cousin of Tshibuabua and claimed in a 2012 government job application to have once worked for the intelligence service. The Congolese government says Tshintela was also killed by the same alleged militia members, but U.N. investigators have not confirmed this.
RFI reported that after Sharp and Catalan met with army Col. Jean de Dieu Mambweni in Kananga, Mambweni contacted Tshintela. Over the next 48 hours before the trip, every time the U.N. workers called Tshintela, he then called the army colonel.
Audio recovered from Catalan’s computer by the U.N. reveals Tshibuabua and another person assuring the workers their safety would be guaranteed. According to Reuters, he was arrested in late 2017 and charged in December with the murder of the U.N. workers, along with participation in an insurrection.