KALEMIE Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused police in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday of summarily executing at least 51 people in an anti-gang operation and of being responsible for the disappearance of at least 33 more.
The report, based on witness testimony, is the second high-profile inquiry into Operation Likofi, or 'punch' in the Lingala language. The operation was launched a year ago to tackle criminal gangs in the capital Kinshasa.
U.S.-based HRW accused police involved in Operation Likofi of executing unarmed young men at home in front of family members and in markets in an attempt to intimidate the local population.
The mother of one man shot dead by police recounted how an officer told onlookers: "Come look. We killed a 'kuluna' (gang member) who made you suffer."
HRW said there were likely to have been more killings than the 51 it managed to document. One police officer in the operation told HRW that well over 100 had been killed.
Interior Minister Richard Muyej told Reuters cases of misconduct were under investigation.
"Cases of misconduct have been presented to the justice system. For us, transparency is important ... Before the courts there are cases of police who were involved in the operation. We are transparent in all of this," Muyej said.
However, HRW said none of the police officers arrested or prosecuted since the operation had been arrested in connection with killings or disappearances from the operation itself.
The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in Congo accused the Congolese National Police in October of executing at least nine people in the operation, which ended in February.
The government rejected that report, accused its authors of trying to destabilize the government and expelled the head of the U.N. office, angering the U.N. Security Council, which has reported threats against UNJHRO staff.
In an effort to assuage the international criticism, Muyej convened ambassadors in Kinshasa last Friday and said the government would work with UNJHRO.
(The story was refiled to correct the spelling of Kalemie in the dateline)
Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Gareth Jones